Aspen —

Further limits on downtown residential under consideration

With a 3-2 vote, City Council directed staff to draft land use code amendments that would make residential development in the downtown area extremely unlikely, if not impossible.


A representative from the community development department told The Observer that council members will likely consider two amendments. One is an outright ban on residential development in the core. The other is a special review process that allows developers to propose free market residences in exchange for preserving historic structures or developing a lodge.

“My guess is it will go toward limited allowances,” she told The Observer.

The new limits have not yet been enacted. A hearing and final vote will be scheduled later this year.

 Ireland loses bid to add height to Boogies third story

Mayor Mick Ireland was on the losing end of a vote to add four feet to the height of Boogie’s Diner. What’s unusual is that Ireland voted in favor of the extra height.

The mayor questioned whether the Historic Preservation Commission’s denial of a request to increase the building height to 42 feet was fair, given that another nearby building nearly reaches 42 feet. But three other council members agreed that the 38-foot limit was appropriate.

The HPC approved expansion of the second floor of the popular diner and clothing store, located at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Hunter Street, and addition of a third-floor condominium.

 Sketch plan review advances lodge plan below Lift 1A

A sketch plan review of a possible hotel and residential development on South Aspen Street suggests developers want to build something similar in lot coverage to the unsuccessful Lodge at Aspen proposal.

The building located closest to Durant Avenue would operate as a hotel with approximately 75 rooms. Two other buildings located further up the hill toward Lift 1A would house 30 or 35 full- or fractional-ownership units, about 2,500 square feet each.

The amount of affordable housing has been cut from 16 to eight units. There are currently no plans for off-site affordable housing.

Mayor Mick Ireland suggested a public improvement district funded through sales of the residential units to fund additional affordable housing. David Parker of Bald Mountain Development said he would be willing to explore the idea.

  Aspen Valley Hospital creates foundation to raise funds for capital improvements

The newly formed Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation enables charitable contributions to the hospital for its ongoing $120 million expansion, as well as other future improvements and updates.

The hospital historically relied on Aspen Valley Medical Foundation for fundraising, but the two entities announced their split in June, reflecting the evolution of both organizations. 
AVMF is now focusing exclusively on health and human service priorities outside of the hospital.

The hospital has set a goal of $60 million in philanthropic contributions to help with its ongoing facilities upgrades. The rest of the project is being funded from general obligation bonds.

 Major addition to hospital nearly complete

Phase two, a 70,000-square-foot addition, at Aspen Valley Hospital, will be completed by early October. The new space will house in-patient rooms, physical therapy, oncology and infusion clinics, and office space for Aspen Orthopaedic Associates. The four-phase project is scheduled to be completed in 2016.

 State Department: Bandar still alive

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, chief of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, is apparently alive and well despite rumors in early August that he had been assassinated in an explosion. A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said last month recent stories reporting that Bandar, 63, had been killed were not true.

Two Pitkin County properties owned by Bandar, including Hala Ranch, sold earlier this summer.

Montagna out, Element 47 in at Little Nell

The Little Nell’s Montagna Restaurant will be remodeled and renamed this fall, opening on Thanksgiving Day as the high-end eatery Element 47. The name is derived from the periodic table of the elements, which lists silver at No. 47. Montagna will serve dinners through Sept. 8 and close for good on Sept. 10.

 Enplanements down, occupancy up

Passenger enplanements at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport dropped 3 percent in July. Lodging numbers suggest people drove to town in large enough numbers to make up for the dip — occupancy was 78 percent, 10 percent higher than July 2011.

 Lodge owners to city: Stay out of lodging business

Lodge owners and developers called on the city government to support the existing inventory of hot beds in ways that increase occupancy and promote the resort. The city, they said in a recent survey, should not develop or manage a moderately priced property.

Economy lodges in Aspen, such as the Tyrolean, St. Moritz and Snow Queen, are all run by longtime locals who own have owned their businesses and the property for decades. The lion’s share of Aspen lodging properties fall into the “luxury” category.

The survey was part of an ongoing study of lodging in Aspen. The next phase will look at opportunities for the community, in terms of enhancing the existing stock and promoting new lodging development.

 Retail activity in June up sharply

The city of Aspen’s June sales tax receipts were up 16 percent this year compared to last, the largest increase in four years. Overall, retail sales in Aspen were nearly $6 million higher in June 2012 compared to June 2011.

Hotels, lodges and condominium rentals were particularly strong with a 36 percent jump. The construction industry had the second strongest showing, with a 21 percent increase from 2011. Sales were up in every category except automobiles and luxury goods.

 ACRA says retail woes worth wider benefit of bike race

Even though retailers posted dismal sales during the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors said the benefits outweigh the lost revenues.

Meridian Jewelers owner Kenny Smith and others on ACRA’s board received calls from merchants who lost business as the race took over town, constraining pedestrians and drivers throughout town. Some merchants simply closed for the two days of the race.

The response from ACRA is that national exposure and international television coverage has a huge positive impact on resort.

 Council extends Boomerang vesting

City Council granted a three-year extension of  vesting for the 40-unit affordable housing project approved on the site of what was once the Boomerang Lodge, at the base of Shadow Mountain. The developer received approval in 2006 to build new lodge, but revised the application in 2010 in order to build affordable housing. Neighbors sued after the change, and the project remains entangled in litigation.

Five new lots at Forest Service site to hit market this winter

The U.S. Forest Service will subdivide one of its three acres of in Aspen’s West End and sell the lots off  over the winter. Proceeds will pay for redevelopment of the Aspen Ranger District facilities.

Basalt —

New building at Willits to have drive-thru coffee shop

A split town council waived its general prohibition and approved a drive-through coffee shop in a new 9,500 square foot building planned for the vacant land between Whole Foods and Alpine Bank at Willits Town Center.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Councilwoman Anne Freedman voted against the waiver. Whitsitt said an earlier council’s promise to limit drive-through businesses constituted a promise to the community. Freedman doesn’t want Willits Town Center to become a place where commuters pull off the highway, grab their drink and dash.

 Library district decides against tax increase

Basalt Regional Library District won’t seek a property tax increase this fall, in spite of sagging revenues and a past board’s failure to raise the mill levy to keep revenues in line with debt payments. The district will instead dip into reserves to cover its projected shortfall.

 Minor earthquake hits outside of El Jebel

A minor earthquake shook the midvalley on Aug. 21, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter of the 3.3-magnitude quake was about 8 miles north-northeast of El Jebel.  Small-magnitude quakes here are relatively common. There have been two similar sized quakes this year in the area, and there have been scores acrosss a 30- to 40-mile range over the last two decades.

 Basalt shooting range open after fire closure

The Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range reopened with a new 100-yard berm to stop rounds from striking beyond the range. Nearby brush has been removed and a smoking ban is in effect. The range was closed for most of August after a 2-acre wildfire, triggered by a shooter, threatened a nearby neighborhood.

Snowmass Village —

New community development director worked in public and private sectors

The town of Snowmass Village hired Steve Ferris, formerly planning director in Telluride, as its new community development director. It is a new position in town government, created by combining the roles of the building and planning directors.

Ferris most recently worked in development management for hotels. He said he wanted to get back into government work and move back to the mountains.

 Westin and Wildwood on schedule for November opening

Construction on the Westin Snowmass Resort and the Wildwood Snowmass hotel is on schedule to be completed by Nov. 15. Both properties are accepting reservations.

The Westin Snowmass Resort will feature 254 rooms and 17 suites a new restaurant — the Snowmass Kitchen — and a spa and fitness center.

The Wildwood Lodge will reopen with 153 renovated rooms. The Wildwood Canteen replaces the existing Village Steakhouse and will serve breakfast daily. The New Belgium Bar at Wildwood will feature an eclectic menu.

The Westin Snowmass Conference Center has been completed, and is now a 18,100-square-foot, state-of-the-art meeting space. Upgrades include a new lighting system and a new audiovisual system.

 Viceroy Snowmass hires Quigley as director of sales and marketing

Viceroy Snowmass’ named John Quigley as its director of sales and marketing. A 25-year resident of Snowmass Village, Quigley spent two decades working at the Silvertree Hotel, Wildwood Lodge and Snowmass Conference Center.

Snowmass Rodeo has biggest summer ever

Chris Kelly, executive director of the Snowmass Western Heritage Association, said ticket sales and attendance at the rodeo this summer exceeded any other in memory. A single-night attendance record was set Aug. 8, when 1,790 purchased tickets — and that’s not counting sponsor pass holders.

The Snowmass Rodeo is the longest-running weekly rodeo in Colorado. Next year it will celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Pitkin County —

County continues to win assessment challenges

A state board of appeals last month upheld the Pitkin County Assessor’s valuation of two major properties, the Viceroy Snowmass and the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt.

The assessor’s office placed the value of the Viceroy at $111.5 million. The state board agreed with its decision to classify the building as a residential property, because many of the units have been sold and are managed as condominiums. Viceroy representatives argued it should be considered a hotel property and valued at $23 million.

With the Roaring Fork Club, the dispute was over the value of the golf course and clubhouse. The county valued the property at $19 million; the club said it was worth $7 million.
Last month, the state ruled in the county’s favor on valuation of The Little Nell, Aspen Skiing Co.’s luxury hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain.

 Airport redevelopment advances to P&Z

Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to begin hearings on the airport master plan, which proposes the most significant expansion of Sardy Field since the 1970s.

The controversial plan calls for adding a second story and nearly doubling the size of the main terminal. The parking plan calls for 1,150 spaces on the east, or Highway 82 side of the airport, plus 150 on the Owl Creek side the facility. A second fixed-base operator (FBO), which serves private and charter planes, would also open on the west side of the airport.

The County Commissioners will have final say over the plan, which is expected to go before them for public hearings and adoption later this fall.

 Archaeological find spurs TDR, preservation requests

A rural Pitkin County site that contains archaeological remnants dating back more than 8,000 years may be preserved permanently, provided the county commissioners agree to grant two transferable development rights.

The presence of ancient tools and manufacturing debris, coupled with the site’s high-altitude setting and location, indicates “a very specialized land-use patterning that has not been adequately documented anywhere in Colorado.” There are signs of repeated use and occupation over several millennia.

The Archaeological Conservancy and the state archaeologist of Colorado are pushing for the site’s permanent protection.

The owners have agreed to preserve the site, and asked the county commissioners to declare their property constrained and issue two transferable development rights, which would let them recoup their investment. The commissioners will take the proposal up on Sept. 12.

 Free market ownership ban growing issue for housing residents

Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority Board officials say the recent decision to require an owner of affordable housing in Aspen to sell her free market housing in Basalt, despite the fact she’ll likely lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, is becoming a familiar story.

Guidelines require affordable housing residents not own other property. Housing lottery winners have 180 days to sell any free market property they own in the valley. The requirement was never an issue before the economic downturn, but compliance has been difficult in the down market.

Longtime Lenado landowners seek development rights

Frank Peters and Daniel Delano are applying for the right to build for four homes of up to 5,750 square feet in Lenado, the former lumber mill and mining town north of Woody Creek.

They want the county commissioners to allow “activity envelopes” on four parcels they own in the area — Last Chance north and south, Silver Creek and Hidden Treasure.

 River/real estate study still under consideration

Pitkin County may still end up spending $85,000 on a study that examines the relationship between real estate values and the health of the Roaring Fork River.

The idea has been talked about for several months by the Healthy Streams and Rivers Board. The study would analyze transactions over the last decade to determine what if any role the Roaring Fork River has on property values, and then estimate the potential negative effects if significant amounts of water are diverted for use in Front Range communities.

John Loomis, a researcher with Colorado State University, told the commissioners that similar studies elsewhere have held up in court. He cautioned, however, that the study might not show a correlation between property value and the state of the river.

Commissioners Jack Hatfield  and George Newman expressed doubts about paying for the study. Commissioner Rachel Richards voiced support, because it could give the county grounds to fight future diversions. The commissioners have yet to make up their minds.

 Shield-O Mesa open space purchase delayed

Myriad issues including public access, location of parking and problems securing rights that for a new trail forced Pitkin County Open Space & Trails to ask for extra time to complete due diligence on purchase of a 114-acre parcel in the Shield-O Mesa subdivision, located in Old Snowmass next to Windstar.

Windstar, owned by the Rocky Mountain Institute, is on the market, so it’s not clear that the county will be able to build a trail across the property to connect with nearby BLM land.

The county is under contract to buy the land for $475,000, plus $194,000 in back taxes owed to the county treasurer.

 Hunter Creek trail extension approved over objections

Pitkin County  approved a .3-mile extension of the Hunter Creek Trail last month, despite objections from residents. It will connect the Hunter Creek and Rio Grande trails by cutting through a wooded river bottom and crossing Red Mountain Road.

 Senator proposes partial protection for Thompson Divide

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet released a draft bill last month that would provide partial protections for Thompson Divide, just as another energy company applies to keep its leasing in the area active.

Bennet’s proposal would withdraw about half the area’s Forest Service and BLM lands from future mineral leasing, protecting them from future oil and gas development. The Thompson Divide includes 220,000-plus acres of federal land running from Carbondale to McClure Pass.  The bill explicitly states that it is preserving existing rights of gas leaseholders.

Antero Resources became the second energy firm to apply for the right to “unitize” multiple leases in the region, allowing it to retain rights to drill indefinitely. SG Interests applied earlier to unitize its leases in the Four Mile Creek area. The Thompson Divide Coalition is pressing the Bureau of Land Management to deny those applications.

Meanwhile, Snowmass Village Town Council became the eighth jurisdiction to formally support the TDC’s protection efforts.

 Hearing officer reverses mining limits on Avalanche Creek

A U.S. Forest Service appeal officer found there is not adequate evidence that bighorn sheep would be adversely affected to justify a prohibition on winter operations at an alabaster and marble mine near the confluence of Avalanche Creek and the Crystal River, north of Redstone.

Scott Snelson from the White River National Forest previously ruled the mine must cease operations and remove all equipment before Nov. 30 to protect the bighorn sheep. Snelson will now issue a new decision on winter operations.

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