November 2010

ABOR – Aspen Board of REALTORS© – Observer

A rundown of the top news stories over the last month, with particular focus on issues and items that are important to the Real Estate community.

Aspen —

City moves ahead with hydroelectric plant

The city of Aspen is proceeding with its plans to build a hydropower plant on Castle Creek, despite complaints of residents living along Castle and Maroon Creeks.

The city is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an exemption that allows hydropower projects to avoid the normal licensing process in cases where at least some of the necessary infrastructure is already in place. The existing infrastructure is a pipeline that goes from a water intake valve on Castle Creek to Thomas Reservoir, a city-owned holding pond.

A new pipeline from Thomas Reservoir to the yet-to-be-built hydropower plant is under construction already, which has added to the controversy. Critics are particularly concerned, however, about the intense draw down of water from Castle and Maroon Creeks that will be necessary to generate enough power to make the project worthwhile.

The city has proposed cutting the flow of Castle Creek to 13.3 cubic feet per second for a full two and half miles on Castle Creek, and down to 17.7 cubic feet per second for about three miles on Maroon Creek, trickles even by late season standards.

Given hosts last lecture

After 40 years of continuous operation, the Given Institute ended its role as a University of Colorado conference center with its eighth annual “Quandaries in Healthcare” meeting.

Sponsored by CU, Vanderbilt University, the University of Texas and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the conference focused on the literary trend among healthcare professionals to write about the pressures they are under from various directions.

Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke donated the site overlooking Hallam Lake to CU for academic uses in the late 1960s. Negotiations between the city and the university on preserving the Given building and a portion of the campus are under way.

Cooper Avenue owners planning spring demolition

Bad Billy’s, the burger and beer joint that features foosball and shuffleboard and is a locals’ favorite, will be closing after the winter season to allow their landlords at the Cooper Avenue Building to move forward with plans to demolish and redevelop the site.

Bad Billy’s occupies the kitchen and space that housed Cooper Street Pier for four decades. Redevelopment of the site has been delayed for several years, first by local politics and then by the weak national economy. The new building will include restaurant, retail and residential space.

Economic activity up through September

The city of Aspen’s latest sales tax report suggests that the up valley economy is improving.

Sales tax collections for 2010 show that Aspen is performing well, up 4 percent through September. By contrast, sales tax collections are down 5 percent in Basalt so far this year.

Lodging tax collections in Aspen through September are up 10 percent compared to 2009, according to the city’s report.

Year-to-date housing RETT collections through October 2010 were down 4 percent from the same period in 2009, although that may not be as negative a number as it appears. A number of units at the Residences at the Little Nell and other fractional projects closed in early 2009.

Affordable housing sale questioned

Developer Peter Fornell questioned the wisdom of the city of Aspen’s sale of two affordable housing units located in free market complexes in town.

Aspen City Council recently purchased the units — both two-bedroom, one-bath condos — because they had become unaffordable for their owners after the building homeowner associations levied special assessments in the range $100,000.

One of those units sold on the free market earlier this year, netting the city $189,000 in profit. Another is for sale at $725,000 and would profit the city $493,000, if sold at that price. While the six-figure net gain sounds like a lot, Fornell said it’s probably not enough to replace the housing that was lost.

But Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said per-unit subsides for the Burlingame Ranch project were in the $300,000 range, meaning that $600,000 would provide housing for four employees at that project. The city also owns two parcels of land in town that Crook thinks can be developed for comparable prices.

There are at least 12 other affordable housing ownership properties that are the lone deed-restricted units in free market buildings that could face similar issues with special assessments.

Hotel owners eye empty bus lanes

Local hoteliers are trying to find a way to allow their guest shuttles to use the bus-only lanes between the airport and Aspen.

The bus-only lanes were built with funding from a county sales tax that is dedicated to mass transportation. Legally, a 15-person van shuttling hotel guests to and from the airport is not considered mass transit, but “paratransit” — something between a personal vehicle and a bus.

Expanded use would require a voter approval, and the county transit fund would need to be reimbursed. City transportation officials say the change would also require an OK from the Federal Highway Administration, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the City of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.

Voluntary designation proposed for Fritz Benedict home

The owners of a home designed and built by Aspen architect and developer Fritz Benedict are seeking permission to subdivide the lot at 1102 East Waters Ave. under Ordinance 48, which governs post WWII historic properties.

The application — filed by property owners Susan Griffin, Bonnie Grenney and William Geary — seeks historic landmark designation for the Benedict in exchange for the subdivison. The owners envision construction of either a single-family home or duplex on the site.

The Benedict-designed home is a low-slung mountain chalet that is typical of the model for mountain ski resort architecture in the 1950s and 1960s.

City of Aspen treats uranium-filled well

Water from a city of Aspen well that has higher-than-acceptable levels of uranium will be blended with cleaner water from other parts of the city’s system in order to bring it back online.

The water department took the well off-line in 2009 after testing found uranium concentrations to be 38-billionths-of-a-gram per liter, which is 8-billionths-of-a-gram higher than the federal maximum. Most of the city’s water comes from Castle and Maroon creeks, but the city owns three wells that are used during dry years or in other periods of water shortage.

In Other News …

United Airlines will begin flying daily nonstops between Houston and Aspen on January 4, and weekend non-stop service between the two communities on December 18. The level of air service offered by United and Frontier this winter is approaching historical highs.

Independence Pass was closed Oct. 25 after a winter storm brought wind gusts to 45 miles per hour and more than a foot of new snow at higher elevations.

The Aspen stimulus effort, which spent $100,000 supporting various events, generated nearly $3 million in economic activity, according to a committee assigned to review the program.

Solar power in Aspen will receive a boost at the water treatment plant, where Sol Energy of Carbondale has been hired to install 72 kilowatts worth of solar panels. Once completed, the 93 kilowatt solar power system is projected to generate 64 percent of the water plant’s energy needs.

Merrill Ford, a longtime supporter of Aspen’s most important cultural institutions, died on Oct. 24. She was the first executive director of the International Design Conference, a lifetime trustee at the Aspen Institute and heavily involved with the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Aspen Art Museum, the Aspen Hall of Fame and the Aspen Historical Society.

Snowmass Village —

Mammoth – Fossil Bones – moving to Denver

Denver Museum of Nature and Science started a formal archeological dig to remove the bones of ancient mammoths, mastedons and a prehistoric bison in what was once a deep peat bog at Snowmass.

The museum will take ownership of the skeletons, which were initially unearthed by a Gould Construction bulldozer operator working on a reservoir expansion project near the Divide subdivision.

Dr. Ian Miller, chair of the museum’s earth sciences department and curator of paleontology, says the remains were preserved in a layer of peat, which helped keep oxygen from breaking down the original bone material. The skeletons are unique because they are rare at such a high altitude, in this case, about 8,850 feet above sea level.

Droste Open Space deal delayed; SV voters OK $2 million

Pitkin County Open Space missed the first of three closing dates on the $18 million purchase of the Droste family’s 742-acre estate above Brush Creek, but the setback isn’t expected to derail the deal.

The county was scheduled to pay $500,000 in mid-September to acquire a 108-acre parcel and lock in an option to purchase the remaining portions of the property.

Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said clearing title proved to be too big of a challenge before that first closing date, but assured the Snowmass Village Town Council that the purchase is still on track.

Snowmass Village voters approved bonding to raise $2 million for the purchase. No new closing date has been set.

Gondola transit plan may soon be completely dead

The owner of the land beneath the Snowmass Village Conoco filed a lawsuit in an attempt to have an easement across the property for an in-town gondola removed.

“The existence of the gondola easement substantially and negatively diminishes the market value of the subject property,” reads the complaint on behalf of Snowmass Real Estate Solutions filed by Garfield and Hecht law firm.

Related WestPac which owned and planned to redevelop the Snowmass Center property — home to the post office and grocery store — was at one time planning to install a skittles-like gondola to link Snowmass Center with Base Village.

Two more suits over Viceroy

J&J Asset Company, Ltd of Texas is suing Base Village Owner, a division of the Related Companies of New York, over its failure to either close on two condominium units in the Viceroy Hotel and Condos or return a $215,250 deposit.

The suit claims that Base Village Owner knew its construction loan for the Base Village project was in jeopardy when it agreed in 2008 to sell the units and that it “had neither the intention nor the ability to close on the sale of the units.” In early September, the Carole Anne Levy Revocable Living Trust filed a similar lawsuit against Base Village Owner, LLC.

Pitkin County —

Aspen Area Community Plan, (AACP) would raise affordable housing requirements

If elected officials adopt the Aspen Area Community Plan as currently proposed, it will create significant changes to the affordable housing mitigation requirements placed on developers.

Current policy requires developers to provide affordable housing for 60 percent of the employees generated by their projects. The draft language of the AACP would increase that mitigation requirement to 100 percent. However, the plan contemplates lowering the requirement for projects that provide “community housing benefits.”

The draft AACP calls for an updated study on job generation impacts for all types of development. It also proposes moving away from the infill policies that spurred development in downtown Aspen earlier this decade.

A draft version — available at — is now in the hands of elected officials, who are reviewing the document and plan to adopt something early next year. Planners intend to amend the city and county land-use codes to reflect whatever is finally adopted.

Entrance to Redstone envisioned

Pitkin County open space officials have crafted a master plan to give a facelift to Redstone Park, Elk Park and the Redstone Boulders Open Space.

In the conceptual plans, Redstone Park is envisioned with a re-vegetated lawn along Coal Creek, enhanced overlook areas and recreational amenities including a horseshoe pit. The plans aim to preserve and enhance memorials left on the site. Elk Park will have a winter skating pond, a new parking area and newly planted stands of trees.

The designs are on display at the Redstone Church through Nov. 12, and posted online at

Library planning expansion

The Pitkin County Library is readying plans for a nearly $10 million expansion and remodeling project that will be timed with replacement of the roof on the adjacent Rio Grande Parking Garage.

The plans call for a library expansion to the east, onto the roof of the garage, with a two-story, 9,400 square foot addition. It will include a meeting room with exterior access, a quiet reading area and a couple of outdoor patio areas that take advantage of the second-floor views on the back of the building.

Basalt/Carbondale —

Roaring Fork Club seeks expansion OK

The Roaring Fork Club is working on a plan for 13 additional luxury cabins, three single-family homes and 16 affordable housing units.

In a key move, Basalt Town Council voted 5-0 to amend the terms of a previous approval for a smaller expansion, rather than make the club start from scratch in the review process. By doing so, the council excused the club from having to comply with recently adopted growth management measures. There are two more rounds of review before the project can begin.

Club representative Bob Daniel told the Town Council that one “pleasant surprise” has been the number of extended families – from grandparents to grandchildren – spending time at the Roaring Fork Club. To meet that demand, the club wants to add cabins with a fourth bedroom that are as large as 4,000 square feet.

The Roaring Fork Club, developed in 1999, currently includes 48 luxury cabins, along with an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, fishing access on the Roaring Fork River.

Basalt bars new marijuana facilities

Town officials say applicants aren’t exactly beating down the doors with marijuana dispensary proposals, but a moratorium is nevertheless needed to prevent another costly review of a dispensary application.

The town spent about $10,000 on legal and administrative costs associated with the review of Basalt Alternative Medicine’s application this summer. Town manager Bill Kane says Basalt cannot afford another such review, so the council passed an emergency, two-year moratorium on new applications.

The moratorium won’t affect the current license for Basalt Alternative Medicine, which opened its doors at the start of November.

Pop art museum opening in Carbondale

The extensive collection of pop art assembled over a lifetime by collector John Powers will soon be on display at the new Powers Art Center in Carbondale. The museum, a memorial to Powers, is the brainchild of his widow and art-collecting partner, Kimiko.

The not-for-profit Powers Art Center is approximately 15,000 square feet, and includes a room to show up to 80 pieces of art at a time, a library and a conference room. The museum will open on a Monday-Thursday schedule before Jan. 1. Admission will be free.

River access purchases moving ahead

Two public purchases of land along the Roaring Fork are under way, and both are meant to enhance access for fishermen.

The town of Carbondale, the state Division of Wildlife and several partners have continued with the process of buying the 7.8-acre Koziel parcel along the Roaring Fork River. The land, near the intersection of Highways 82 and 133, has been leased by the DOW for several years and contains a popular boat ramp.

Additionally, the Pitkin County open space and trails board announced its plan to spend $325,000 on a three-acre parcel upstream on the Roaring Fork River from Basalt. The cottonwood-filled plot is a piece of the privately-owned St. Jude’s Ranch.

Nov. 2010: Aspen Board of REALTORS©, ABOR Observer