A rundown of the government and business activity over the last month, with particular focus on issues and items that are important to the Real Estate community.
Inside this month’s Observer …
Aspen— Council retreats from affordable housing fee hike…
Snowmass Village – Judge rules against both sides in Capitol Peak case…
Basalt – RFTA expansion slowed by P&Z…
Pitkin County – Master plan to set new rules for Highway 82 development…
City Council steps back from sharp affordable housing fee increase
Responding to public opposition, City Council stepped back from proposed land use code amendments that would sharply increase housing mitigation requirements for development.
Developers are currently required to provide affordable housing for 60 percent of the employees generated by their projects, either by building or buying down a unit, or paying a fee in lieu, which ranges from $139,890 to $283,864 per employee. A recent study found that the actual cost of building affordable housing units runs between $275,566 and $534,923 per employee. (The in-lieu amount is determined by the income category of the units in question.)
The proposed code amendments would adopt methodology that estimates the difference between the market price of units and the amount locals can afford to pay. The so-called “market gap approach” is used in other resort towns.
Thirteen of 14 speakers at the hearing late last month were against the proposal. They objected to the effects on residential development and construction employment. At least three speakers, including Howie Mallory, commented on the lack of public outreach and suggested the city make more of an effort to inform the community.
Affordable housing developer Peter Fornell, spoke in favor of the proposal, arguing that the cash-in-lieu option should be seen as a last resort, because it places the burden of building affordable housing on the city instead of the developer.
Council agreed that the current fee is too low, but felt the proposed changes needed more work.
Frisch pushes back against criticism of lodging vote
City Councilman Adam Frisch pushed back against criticism of his vote last month in favor of new land use rules that set buildings heights in the commercial core at two stories. Frisch, who joined three other councilmen in supporting the final decision, said his vote was meant to support lodging, which is the lone exception to the two-story rule. If a developer proposes lodging in the core, and it happens to be on the north side of the street, then a third story is possible.
“Anytime someone offers flexibility for lodging, I'm almost always going to be open to that,” Frisch said. “Adding more lodging downtown is a key component to vitality.”
Top cop cites Galena Plaza redevelopment plan
Sheriff Joe DiSalvo expressed reservations about renovation plans for Galena Plaza that will remove most of the parking outside sherriff and police headquarters on the west side of the Pitkin County Courthouse. But some council members and city staff have suggested the cluster of emergency vehicles in front of the park is one reason why it is currently underutilized.
Plans for the renovated park atop the city’s Rio Grande parking garage include additional lawn, and two performance spaces. The alley south of the park would be remade into a pedestrian-friendly zone with lighting and banners.
Mayor suggests homeowners should decide if Burlingame goes to the dogs
At a recent meeting with Burlingame residents, Mayor Mick Ireland said the best way to settle whether dogs should be allowed is for residents of both Phase I and the soon-to-be-built Phase II to decide the issue as a single voting group.
The city will begin construction on the first 48 units of Burlingame II, which will eventually be a 167-unit neighborhood. If Ireland's suggestion is followed, Burlingame II units will be sold with the understanding that owners may or may not be able to have dogs.
Developer finds way to move easily, and perhaps profitably, through approval process
The redevelopment proposal for the Bidwell building on the Cooper Street mall in downtown Aspen is the second by Chicago businessman Mark Hunt that avoids the trend to maximize square footage and mix high-end residential units with commercial uses. The Gap redevelopment also came in as a two-story project with considerable setbacks. Hunt plans to replace the Bidwell building with a new one that is the same size — about 15,000 square feet of commercial space. Both buildings will be entirely commercial.
The benefit of such projects is a much easier ride through Aspen’s land-use review process. Neither will end up in front of City Council because they are within height and mass limits and add no new square footage or uses.
Water plan update examines demand, supply, hydro
City of Aspen officials are updating the city’s comprehensive water management plan, a process that will inform future decisions about new reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants. The update comes as water use remains below its 1993 peak, despite the fact that there are now two-and-a-half times as many customers.
One question will be about the ongoing need for planned-but-never-built reservoirs on Maroon and Castle creeks. Water rights were conditionally decreed in 1971 to the city for a 170-foot dam below Maroon Lake and a 155-foot dam below the Elk Mountain Lodge “to ensure reliability of water quality and quantity during successive drought years.”
Council rejects parklet plan
The concept of “parklets” in the downtown core met resistance from the majority on City Council. The tiny, temporary parks would be created by closing a small cluster of parking spaces. A parklet proposed on restaurant row on Hopkins Ave. would have included tables for outside dining, with the space rented to adjacent restaurants. A second, non-commercial parklet elsewhere in town was also under consideration.
Councilman Torre worried that the commercial parklet would be a detriment for businesses that would lose parking for their patrons. Staff plans to reconsider the issue and perhaps bring it back later.
Affordable housing sales weak in 2012
2012 was a sluggish year for sales of affordable housing, with a few exceptions. The housing authority recorded 57 sales worth $11.1 million in 2012, compared with 60 sales worth $13.1 million in 2011. Lower income categories attracted the most interest among prospective buyers for Burlingame II. That was also the case for sales the housing authority's existing inventory. Interest in one-bedroom units remained especially strong.
Traffic in Aspen reaching pre-recession levels
Traffic volume in Aspen rose last year to its highest level since the recession began. In December, 24,788 vehicles crossed the Castle Creek Bridge, a 7 percent increase over 2011 and the highest number since 2004. Overall traffic increased 3.4 percent in 2012 over 2011, with 263,035 cars driving into town. That number is 7.4 percent lower than the baseline maximum set in 1993.
Mayor considers run for Council later this spring
Mick Ireland, who will step aside as Aspen’s mayor in June because of term limits, is considering a run for a City Council seat in the May election because he’s worried that a pro-growth majority may be elected, reversing new limits on downtown development. He said he would wait to see who else is running before making a decision. State term limits rules do not prevent Ireland from running for council.
Council calls for lottery or alternative with RO housing
City Council agreed to loosen qualification rules for RO purchases at Phase II of the Burlingame development, eliminating size of family limits that apply to other affordable housing units. Council members did they want three-bedroom homes to go to couples — married or not — with or without children. They would also like to see a lottery or some other random selection system, rather than first-come, first-serve.
Occupancy down in December
Occupancy at local lodges was down sharply in December 2012, compared December 2011. Bookings in Aspen dropped 15.4 percent, averaging 56.4 percent for the month. In Snowmass occupancy averaged 41.3 percent, down 12.5 percent from the same month the prior year. Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, said it appears bookings were strong at the end of the month, but weak in early December when there was no snow.
Speed limit lowered in West End
City council approved lowering the speed limit in the West End from 25 to 14 mph next summer as part of a plan to slow traffic down in the neighborhood. Police Chief Richard Pryor said the average speed of drivers in the neighborhood is already well below the speed limit, averaging about 17 mph, based on a speed study done in November. He said people think drivers are going faster than they really are. It will cost the city about $30,000 to replace the 60 speed limit signs in the area.
Aspen recognized by Governor for arts
Aspen, along with Pueblo, is one of two cities to receive the 2013 Governor's Arts Award, which recognizes municipalities that enhance their communities and economies through strategic use of the arts. Mayor Mick Ireland and Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki will accept the honors at the Second Annual Creative Industries Summit on April 12 in Pueblo.
City seeks public’s view on small town character
The city of Aspen has launched a website, www.definitelyaspen.com, to promote a community initiative celebrating “small-town character” and to help define the concept. One of the City Council's top 10 goals for 2012-13 is to explore the meaning of small-town character and its relationship to Aspen. A spokesperson said the effort is “about celebrating it and engaging the community.”
Aspen Middle School expands into basement to meet enrollment needs
The Aspen School District plans to remodel unfinished basement space at Aspen Middle School in order to provide more classrooms. The building’s 9,000-square-foot basement was left unfinished to allow for future expansion, and that time has come, according to Superintendent John Maloy.
Aspen Middle School currently has 468 students, seven more than optimum capacity. The project includes a 2,494-square-foot weight room, which would be for the use of the entire district and a new 840-square-foot classroom. One large classroom space would be left unfinished to accommodate future needs as they arise.
Snowmass Village —
Judge rules against Capitol Peak owners, Aspen Skiing Co.
Individual owners at Capitol Peak Lodge condominiums at Base Village lack standing to pursue litigation against the developers, a local court ruled, because they signed that right over to the homeowners association when they purchased their units.
About 60 plaintiffs — Judge James Boyd called the number of litigants “ill-defined” — in 2011 sued 11 defendants, including the Aspen Skiing Co., Intrawest, Related Cos. and Pat Smith, all former or current Base Village developers, contending they were sold smaller-than-advertised units. They also say the developers failed to reveal $47.5 million in bonds issued by the Base Village Metropolitan District, which resulted in property taxes that are 240 percent higher than for Snowmass real estate outside the development. The plaintiffs’ attorneys hope to substitute the Capitol Peak Lodge Association for the individual owners.
In another development Boyd denied the Aspen Ski Co.’s motion to dismiss the case against it altogether, ruling that the company could be found liable based on the conduct of its former development partners. The defendants have filed several motions to dismiss, including some that remain pending.
Part-time residents press Romero for more aggressive Base Village plan
Related Colorado President Dwayne Romero ran into a skeptical crowd at a recent update of the company’s plans for the Base Village.
Romero explained to the Part Time Residents Advisory Board that completing the second piece of Viceroy Snowmass, building 13B, is an important next step. It will begin with a minor PUD amendment request to change the approved sizes of the units. The company has also been focusing on selling condominiums in the first phase of the Viceroy.
Many in attendance criticized Related Colorado’s plans as too conservative in light of the original approvals for 600 condominiums and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space.
They wanted to know if Related would be willing to create a downtown core around Base Village, or invest in transit that connects the three existing commercial centers. Mel Blumenthal, a community leader who works on behalf part-time residents, pressed Romero for the larger vision of the property.
Romero conceded that the plan was conservative, but noted the costs to the community that came with the original, and in hindsight, risky plan of the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest. With the vesting rights for much of the incomplete development expiring in 2014, he said there will be an opportunity for discussion about what Base Village can and should become.
Roaring Fork Mountain Club closes over parking
The Roaring Fork Mountain Club Snowmass, which provided valet and ski concierge services for the last five seasons, says it is closing down because Town Council denied it exclusive use of parking in Upper Village Lot 13.
Club officials wanted to move farther up the hill because they lost their previous location at the new Westin and over concerns raised by the village’s police and fire departments. Council members however could not support the idea of giving up limited public parking for private venture.
Bowling alley coming to Snowmass
Entrepreneur and bowler Mark Reece plans to open a bowling alley in a 6,000-square-foot subterranean space below Venga Venga on Fanny Hill. The operation is part of a growing trend toward boutique alleys and will feature gourmet food, at least by bowling alley standards, and couches. He is planning a family-oriented atmosphere as well as league play. The upper valley hasn’t had bowling since the late 1960s or early 1970s, when the building at the site of Boogie’s in downtown Aspen was converted from a bowling alley to a restaurant, The Shaft.
Snowmass on the hook for $2 million to Pitkin County
Snowmass Village Town Council agreed pay a 2 percent fee on its $2 million share of the purchase of Sky Mountain Park from the Droste family, but will recoup the money in a deal inked with Pitkin County that offsets the fee, which must be paid under state law, with revenues from the county’s motor vehicle tax.
RFTA expansion derailed in midvalley
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's bus-rapid transit system is in danger of missing its federal deadline for completion because it submitted plans that Basalt officials deemed “half-baked.”
The P&Z said RFTA's proposed park-and-ride lot in El Jebel may have unacceptable impacts on Sopris Village, an adjacent subdivision. The board asked for more details from the transit agency.
Michael Meiners, president of the homeowners' association, said RFTA hasn't done enough to prevent traffic from driving through Sopris Village. Other worries include possible contamination of the subdivision's well and degradation of air quality from idling buses.
Aging population drives need for care/retirement community
The driving force behind the Aspen Valley Foundation's proposal for a 148-unit continuous-care and retirement community in Basalt rests on demographic trends — the number of people over 65 is expected to surge ifrom 3,215 currently to 4,662 by 2017.
Because the complex will be developed as a nonprofit, the Aspen Valley Foundation is hoping the town will waive $400,000 in building and land-use fees. Council has yet to take action on the fee-waiver request.
Pitkin County —
New master plan to guide development along Highway 82
The West of Maroon Creek Land Use Plan, (WOMP) will guide zoning and development at the airport, the Airport Business Center (ABC), Buttermilk Ski Area, Inn at Aspen and other properties along Highway 82.
With stated goals of keeping development clustered and back from the highway, preserving views, and avoiding “an urbanized tunnel-like corridor” between the airport and the Maroon Creek bridge, the master plan is expected to result in adoption of a Highway 82 Scenic Corridor District and amendments to land-use code that govern height and placement of new buildings at “activity nodes” along the highway.
A number of properties will be affected:
• Mountain Rescue Aspen’s proposed facility at the one-time Planted Earth home;
• The Base of Buttermilk has long been considered for redevelopment by the Aspen Skiing Co;
• Roads at the Aspen Business Center are about to be rebuilt, making redevelopment more likely;
•The former Harbert Lumber property is committed for affordable housing;
• And the airport is planning a new parking structure and terminal.
Private roads and drives to be named, houses assigned new numbers under county rules
More than 200 driveways around the county that serve three or more homes will receive official names, under new rules adopted by the county commissioners. Homes on the drives in question may also be required to take new house numbers. Affected homeowners should have received a letter explaining the requirements and their role in the process.
The ordinance is meant to make it easier for emergency service providers to respond more easily to calls. It will not make private roads public, however; owners will still be required to maintain them as they always have.
Local governments team up to improve cell phone coverage
Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County, Snowmass Village, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the U.S. Forest Service have formed a coalition to indentify appropriate sites for new communication towers in order to expand cell phone coverage. An RFP has already been published, and if plans go accordingly, work will begin in the spring.
County allows homes to expand for disability access
The county has created a new 350-square-foot house-size exemption to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Previously, addition of an elevator in a residence that was already at maximum build out would not be allowed. The new rules makes allowances in all homes for elevators and other improvements designed to facilitate access for disabled people.
Housing board relents in Flores case
The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority will allow the six-member Flores family to remain in their three-bedroom, 900-square-foot rental home, despite staff concerns regarding the unit’s livability. Housing staff had told family they had until the end of January to move out so it can be repaired and brought up to code.
The Flores, represented pro bono by attorney Cavanaugh O’Leary, appealed the order, arguing that the agency’s action was unfair and arbitrary. Several witnesses at the hearing spoke in favor of the family. An electrician said the work could be done while the family remained in the unit, in direct conflict with housing staff’s contention.
The 11-unit complex is made up nine studios and two three-bedroom apartments, which are all highly subsidized category 1 units.
Partial settlement reached in carbon monoxide case
A settlement has been reached between even defendants in the civil lawsuit stemming from the deaths of a Denver family from carbon monoxide poisoning in a home up Independence Pass in 2008 and relatives of the victims. The four remaining defendants are Marlin Brown and his company, Glenwood Springs-based Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating; Integrity Construction Management Group, and its then-principal, Jack Wheeler. The terms of the settlement have not been released.
Jobs, business activity remain below pre-recession levels
The economy in Pitkin County picked up steam in 2012, but employment remains well below the mid-2000s.
County employment and business activity fell 11 percent over the last five years. In the second quarter of 2007 there were 1,966 business establishments employing 15,879 workers. In the second quarter of 2012 there were 1,730 businesses and 14,159 workers in the county. Average weekly wages also lost ground dropping from $828 in 2007 to $804 by 2012.
Regionally, construction has been one of the hardest hit sectors by the recession. In Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield Counties, there were 535 fewer construction companies and 5,455 fewer workers in the second quarter of 2012 compared with 2007.
County says new oil and gas rules are inadequate
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently increased well setback requirements from occupied buildings from 350 feet to 500 feet. It also gave preliminarily approval for new noise, odor and dust emissions regulations. And the commission now requires companies to conduct water tests in a half mile area around a proposed well, and follow up with testing for five years to determine if the water table has been contaminated. But those new rules are not strict enough for the majority of Pitkin County Commissioners.
One important issue was local control. Commissioner George Newman said it would benefit both industry and the community if distances between wells and structures could determined locally on a case-by-case basis. Commissioner Michael Owsley said when drilling is involved, there will never be adequate protection of water or air.
Colorado Springs blocking water right change for environment
Pitkin County and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) have been working since mid-2010 to reach agreements that would leave 4.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) of county-owned water in lower Maroon Creek and the Roaring Fork River for environmental purposes.
But they are about to go to court against the city of Colorado Springs and its Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. which remain opposed to the release out of fear that the change would result in less water available from the Roaring Fork River for diversion to the Front Range.
The county owns a total of 8 cfs of water in the Stapleton Brothers Ditch. It was originally used by the Stapleton family to irrigate 163 acres of hay and alfalfa fields, but most of that land is now occupied by the airport. Because the county no longer uses all of the water for irrigation, it wants to leave about half of it in the river for the benefit of the riparian ecosystem.
If successful, Pitkin County would become the first entity in the state to legally leave its water in a river for environmental purposes via a long-term trust agreement with the CWCB, as allowed by a state law enacted in 2008.
Concealed weapon permit applications on the rise
Pitkin County has seen a sharp increase over the last two years in the number of people applying for concealed weapon permits. The Sheriff’s Office issued 42 permits in 2012, up from 35 issued in 2011. In prior years, the county was averaging about 17 a year. Handgun safety instructors say there has been a spike in the number of people interested in concealed handgun permits since the December 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Meanwhile, the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners endorsed stricter gun-control measures in the wake of the mass murders of moviegoers in Colorado and first graders in Connecticut.
X Games safety to be reviewed
Pitkin County plans to discuss with ESPN enhancements to spectator and possibly athlete safety and at the Winter X Games when the special-use permit for the January 2014 event is reviewed. The decision comes in the wake of snowmobiler Caleb Moore’s death from injuries suffered during the event. A separate incident, where an athlete fell off his sled with the throttle stuck open which plowed through a fence and struck a spectator, also raised flags at the county.