The mayor of Brand in Vorarlberg said that growth is a priority for his municipality, Source: John Mason on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Mayors in Vorarlberg take action against gentrification in the Austrian Alps

Mayors in Vorarlberg take action against gentrification in the Austrian Alps

The Mayor of Lech asked for support from his colleagues so that these villages can stay authentic

The Austrian Alpine village of Lech took drastic action against the gentrification in the region by banning the so-called “investor model” last week. Yesterday, the tourism communities of the "Experience Exchange Group" (ERFA) in Vorarlberg met to discuss whether more municipalities should join in and use the ban as a lever to influence federal policy change.

Let the small Austrian village be а small Austrian village

The mayor of Lech, Stefan Jochum, explained the investor model like this: a hotel operator builds a new building and then sells the apartments to financially strong investors. They, in turn, are very keen on pouring money into the Alpine Region of Vorarlberg, because Austria is a stable country and the Alps have enormous tourist potential, making it a solid investment.

If a developer constructs a complex with 15 to 20 buildings, with a capacity of 200 to 300 beds, this will not only forever change the landscape of one of these small alpine villages, but it will also create serious disparities in its economy.

This is born from the fact that the locals mainly offer small bed and breakfast accommodations, which are unable to compete with the large hotel chains.

Furthermore, most of the apartments are sold off to the aforementioned investors, and the people who end up buying them never visit the properties themselves. According to Mayor Jochum, this creates a ghost town situation, where these massive apartment complexes just sit empty waiting to be sold off to the next investor.

Lech council meetingLast week the municipal council decided to ban the 'investor model',
Source: Municipality of Lech

During a community council meeting at the beginning of the month, he said: “The view of the many dark houses has been causing us great concern for many years. We have to face the truth: the investor models are out of control. Where there used to be lively restaurants and hotels, we now see empty and lifeless chalets with cold beds in many places without guests and employees”.

On the municipal level, the ban is not really a ban per se. It will entail modest changes to zoning regulations in the area and will add a committee from the local council in the approval process for building projects.

During the approval process, the most important thing the committee will be looking out for is whether the project is antithetical to the local economy, lifestyle and business traditions. The mayor of Lech expressed his strong opinion on the matter, saying: “We have to do everything we can to ensure that our villages remain our villages.”

ERFA is looking for a solution

During the ERFA meeting on Wednesday, local mayors discussed a possible solution to the problems posed by the ‘investor model’, however, different local leaders recognised different priorities for their own municipalities.

The mayor of Mittelberg, Andi Haid explained that it has been his longtime goal to stand against the selling off of his home town. At the same time, the mayor of Brand said that growth is a priority for his municipality, and the construction of a 500-bed complex would be impossible with local funding alone.

Stefan Strolz, the mayor of Warth had a balancing opinion, believing the decision should rest in the hands of each municipality. He added that in Warth there are two investor complexes that are currently very well managed, however, there are dozens of inquiries for further development and the municipality needs a more effective mechanism.

In the end, the ERFA reached an agreement, setting their sights on removing the ‘investment model’ from spatial planning laws. Currently, the group is in talks with the federal government of Austria.

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