Q&A With Vail Town Council Candidate Brian Sipes

Brian Sipes, AIA

Get to know Vail Town Council candidate Brian Sipes, AIA, as he shares his vision for Vail, the path to architecture, and how you, too, can get involved.

Please share some biographical details so members know who you are.

I graduated from the University of Kansas in 1991 and immediately plunged into community advocacy. In 1992, I co-chaired the inaugural local chapter of COTE under the direct mentorship of Bob Berkebile and Kirk Gastinger, the founders of the national COTE for those who may not recognize the names. It’s truly remarkable to see how far we’ve come with sustainable design. In 1993, we spent three months gathering information and seeking participation for an Architect’s Green Products Night. I recall struggling to find about 15 products to showcase at that time. Additionally, I was a part of a mayor’s task force that proposed a ballot initiative to change the trash funding paradigm, making it expensive to dispose of waste and free to recycle and compost. Unfortunately, it failed, but it imparted valuable lessons.

However, the mountains were calling, so as soon as I had repaid my student loans, I headed west to what I hoped was a utopia of sustainable design. I arrived in the Vail Valley in March of 1994, initially to practice architecture, but I was fully prepared to work ski jobs to stay in the mountains if architecture didn’t pan out. Fortunately, it did.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked on numerous projects, ranging from hospitality, restaurant, ski area facilities, and institutional buildings to multifamily and single-family homes. In 2015, I established my own firm, specializing in smaller-scale home and restaurant design with a strong focus on sustainability. One of my proudest achievements has been serving as the architect for the LEED Platinum Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, a decade ago. I’ve also had the privilege of working as the architect for the Walking Mountains Educator Housing community, a project comprising three buildings, each with six beds and baths, operating beyond net zero (banking power year-round) and providing co-housing for Graduate Fellows and seasonal naturalists.

My involvement in public service began in 1998 when I was appointed to the Avon Planning and Zoning Commission. It was during this time that I learned the intricacies of government approvals and realized that the most strategic decisions were made at higher levels. In 2002, I ran for what would become two terms on the Avon Town Council and served as Mayor Pro-Tem during my second term. Additionally, I represented Avon on our local Water Authority and developed a deep interest in the fascinating world of water management in our state. It was during this period that I met my wife, and we welcomed our son into the world, which added another layer to my perspective on community.

After my terms on the council and the financial crisis, my family and I relocated to Minturn, and an opportunity to join the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District board opened up. This District supplies water to Vail and sanitation services to the entire upper valley. I was initially appointed and later elected to this position, allowing me to re-immerse myself in the world of water management. Bucking the down valley migration trend, my family and I moved to East Vail at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

Now, I aspire to bring my extensive experience and unique architect’s perspective to the town I’ve been working my way up to be a part of.

What issues are most important to you and how do you plan on addressing them?

Mountain communities have witnessed a significant influx of people, introducing a markedly skewed economic landscape. Local wages simply cannot compete with individuals who can effortlessly afford $5-8 million homes. This is a reality that makes solutions like the land use bill introduced in the 2023 legislative session completely unworkable in geographically constrained communities such as ours. I want to make sure our unique challenges are broadly understood, which are completely different than how this bill would have affected front range communities.

This is my primary motivation for seeking this office, as I firmly believe we can identify a better, more sustainable approach. No amount of added housing density will cause a free market correction, bringing housing prices to an affordable level. Instead, it would likely trigger a frenzy benefiting developers while offering no immediate or long-term relief. Moreover, it would irrevocably alter the essence of our communities. The demand for housing is seemingly insatiable, and without zoning control, how can we fairly allocate the limited resource of water to support our community’s sustainability?

Our solutions must be distinct and highly targeted. This isn’t a novel problem for us, as it might be for those on the Front Range. We’ve been diligently addressing and providing workforce housing for over 30 years. While Avon and Vail have made solid efforts to introduce below-market and deed-restricted housing, there is still much more to be done.

One aspect lacking in previous efforts is a holistic approach encompassing all socioeconomic levels of housing. In the past, if you held a full-time professional job, you could aspire to enter the real estate market in our up-valley communities. Regrettably, first-time professionals no longer have this opportunity and must now seek homes down valley to align with their budget. Given our unique, elongated valley, this places considerable stress on transportation and quality of life.

We must strive to provide a wide range of housing units that are economically synchronized and deed-restricted to remain affordable. This will enable community members to move within our community as their lives evolve, accounting for changes such as marriage and the addition of children, or retirement. These solutions should be coordinated among each of our valley communities in a collaborative fashion, with a focus on delivering well-designed housing in close proximity to services, where people genuinely wish to reside, all done efficiently.

What unique perspectives can an architect bring to a town council? What skills apply to both the architecture profession and being an elected official?

During our one and only Candidate Forum, we were posed with a question about describing the ideal Council Candidate. Here’s my response:

The ideal candidate is someone who comprehends the physical character of the town, the intricacies of its neighborhoods, its climate, the living patterns of its residents, and their daily challenges. An ideal candidate approaches their constituents with open ears, listening attentively to their specific needs and aspirations. This candidate conducts research and studies the town’s nature, its residents, explores what other communities are doing, and seeks potential resources to uncover truths and understand how decisions might impact the town’s trajectory. The ideal candidate possesses a strong awareness of time and comprehends how choices made today will shape the future.

An ideal candidate demonstrates a profound sense of vision, capable of envisioning not just what exists but what could be, refining that vision while considering constraints like budget, functionality, sustainability, aesthetics, and enduring value, all without compromising the core of the vision or the dreams of their constituents. This candidate also grasps the mechanisms of government and the technical processes and decisions needed to transform that vision into reality.

What’s intriguing is that if you substitute “constituent” with “client” and “town” with “site,” this description also mirrors the perfect job profile for an architect. I firmly believe that more architects should step up and pursue public office, as we bring our problem-solving skills and three-dimensional design perspective to shape the future of our communities.

How can architects support your campaign?

If you have friends residing in the town of Vail, sending them an email to encourage their support would be greatly appreciated! Additionally, please visit and like my Instagram page (@sipesforvail) to help generate some buzz. I also have a website where I provide more in-depth insights on our community’s issues, which you can find at sipesforvail.com. Feel free to reach out to me at sipesforvail@gmail.com.

Thank you!

© AIA Colorado 2024
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