A rundown of government and business activity over the last month, focusing on issues and items that are of particular interest to the Real Estate community.
Inside this month’s Observer:
Aspen - 1st quarter real estate, hotel, and retail stats reflect positive increases
Snowmass - Snowmass sales set a record in March
Basalt - Basalt aims to end the moratorium on retail pot shops
Carbondale - Planning and Zoning Commission considers a unified development code
Pitkin County - 52% increase in real estate transactions in 1st quarter of 2014
Regional - Thompson Divide energy leases debate heats up; Draft plan for state’s water future released
Aspen-Area Real Estate Market Starts Strong in 2014
A strong first-quarter performance by the Aspen-area real estate market has brokers’ upbeat heading into the busy time of the year.
There were 311 real estate transactions in Pitkin County from January through March, according to Land Title Guarantee Co. That was an increase of 52 percent over the same period in 2013, the title insurance company reported in its monthly report.
The cumulative dollar volume of all real estate sales in the county was $250.2 million — an impressive increase of 42 percent over the same period last year.
Strong 2014 Real Estate Sales Fill City Coffers
Strong real estate sales in the first four months of 2014 have given momentum to the city of Aspen’s affordable housing fund. Year to date the housing real estate transfer tax (RETT) collections are up 86%.
Aspen City Council Continues Forum on Incentives Package
The Aspen City Council moved for a continuance on the town’s lodge-incentive program Tuesday, as members of the board said they need more time to digest three major items in the package.
Those items were: the possibility of four-story lodges, relaxation of affordable-housing requirements, and increased allowance for free-market residential units. Long-range planner Jessica Garrow opened the discussion by telling the council that Aspen’s short-term bed base declined by 27 percent between the 1994-95 and 2005-06 ski seasons. One of the council’s top 10 goals is to create a program aimed at reversing that trend.
Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Awarded $750,000 Grant
Colorado U.S. State Senator, Michael Bennet announced that the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Improvement Program. The grant will be used to help repair a portion of one of the airport’s taxiways.
Aspen Reaches a Retail Sales Record in Month of March
The city’s consumption tax report released Monday shows sales of $74.53 million, a 9.2 percent increase over March 2013’s $68.24 million. A look back at city Finance Department records over the past 10 years shows that the previous high for March was set in 2008, where $68.56 million in sales was recorded. The industries posting the largest monthly gains were miscellaneous, luxury goods, accommodations and restaurants, and bars, which posted 22, 17, 15, and 12 percent increases, respectively from 2013.
Aspen City Council Scales Back Downtown Noise Changes
The agreed-upon scaled-back version of the town’s noise ordinance, calls for two additional hours for nighttime noise, pushing the cutoff for 65 decibels back to 11 p.m. After that, the noise allowance would drop to 60 decibels until 7 a.m. Oliver also suggested taking noise readings at the property line of the affected party. Currently, readings are taken at the source’s property line.
Aspen Construction Activity on Pace with 2013
Aspen’s construction activity through May is nearly identical to the same time period in 2013, with numbers showing a slight year-to-year decrease of 0.33 percent in total permit valuation.
In 2013, permit valuation through May 5 totaled $80.7 million, while in 2014, totals so far are $80.4 million, according to numbers from Aspen’s Community Development Department.
City Looks at “Micro Hydro”
The city of Aspen is investigating “micro-hydro” generation on Castle and Maroon creeks as a way to maintain its water rights in the wake of the council shelving the Castle Creek Energy Center (CCEC) project last week. Micro Hydro involves installing equipment in the river that can generate power from water passing through.
Aspen’s Mountain House Lodge Owners Win Approval for Demolition, Will Have Two Years to Decide
Owners of the Mountain House Lodge won unanimous Aspen City Council approval on Monday to tear down the structure and replace it with two single-family homes. However, it’s possible the 26-room lodge will remain, as the council granted a two-year window — at the request of the hoteliers — to explore alternatives
Future of Aspen Art Museum Space up for Discussion
The North Mill Street structure — which the Aspen Art Museum is expected to vacate this summer — has been courted by various entities and nonprofits in the community. Some want to occupy the space for their sole purpose, while other nonprofits and entities have discussed sharing the space.
The building needs roughly $1 million in repairs before anyone moves in, according to city estimates, and on Tuesday, during a work session, the council will offer input on who should cover that cost: the city or new tenants. City staff also has recommended installing a commercial kitchen, estimated to cost between $300,000 and $600,000. The kitchen would serve a variety of uses, including special events and kitchen rentals, according to a city memorandum.
Occupancy Slightly up in Aspen and Snowmass for 2013-2014 Season
Final numbers on occupancy from this past winter at lodges in Aspen and Snowmass are in and show increases over last year in both resorts by 3 percent and 4.5 percent respectively. The average daily rate for a room was 5.9 percent higher in Aspen, and Snowmass saw a 5 percent increase for the 2013-14 winter season.
Ski Co Breaks Ground on Buttermilk Base Project
The Aspen Skiing Co. has broken ground on a major redevelopment of the Buttermilk Ski Area’s base area, a two-year project that includes a new, $10 million state of the art children’s center and changes to the parking lot. Increased snowmaking capacity and a new 8,690 square foot skier services building are also part of the project, according to planning documents submitted to the county.
Snowmass Sales See Big Spike, Set Record in March
Snowmass Village sales rose 11.7 percent year over year in March, according to a report from the town Finance Department.
Sales tax collections totaled $322,656.12, the highest amount ever recorded by the town in March. The previous record was set in March of last year, which surpassed even pre-recession revenue.
The collections put sales tax revenue for the ski season ahead of last winter by 3.6 percent. Sales in the first quarter of 2014 rose by 3.5 percent over the same timeframe last year.
The sales tax report shows collections from businesses by industry. It does not report on individual businesses.
Industries that saw increases in March were lodging, 16.6 percent; restaurants, 9.2 percent; sports equipment and clothing, 16.1 percent; food, drug and liquor, 0.5 percent; general retail, 1.0 percent; and miscellaneous, 48.9 percent.
Revenue from utilities dropped 5.3 percent and collections from the real estate transfer tax fund rose 4.9 percent.
Snowmass Government Scheduled Public Base Village Meetings
The town of Snowmass Village hosted public meetings to discuss the future of Base Village development. Including the Town Council, the Planning Commission, and Snowmass Acquisition Co., the Related Cos. subsidiary that owns Base Village. The meetings considered “pre-sketch” sessions under the town’s land-use code, according to the statement.
A pre-sketch meeting gives Snowmass Acquisition the ability to give a general overview of its revised ideas for the Base Village master plan. Snowmass Acquisition recently withdrew its application to extend its development rights in Base Village, which allows it to ask for such a meeting, said Julie Ann Woods, town community development director.
Second Phase of Viceroy May Not be a Hotel
Dwayne Romero, CEO of Snowmass Acquisition Co. specifically wants to discuss the idea of repurposing 13B. The summary of the pre-sketch development proposal includes asking whether 13B should be changed to an “amenities + employee housing” building.
Snowmass Council Extends Pot Ban
The Snowmass Village Town Council voted 4-1 Monday night to extend a moratorium on retail and medical marijuana shops until March 15, 2017. The moratorium was scheduled to expire July 1.
Town Attorney John Dresser selected the date to provide 60 days after the next presidential administration is seated to see if there is a change in the federal approach to enforcing marijuana laws in Colorado.
Basalt Honored for Bridge Restoration Project
A community project to transform a dilapidated decommissioned traffic bridge into a pedestrian crossing with the feel of a pocket park earned Basalt special recognition on May 22.
The improvements to the Emma Bridge, also known as the 7-Eleven Bridge, received a Community Sustainability Program Excellence award from the International City/County Managers Association. Basalt won in the small cities category for municipalities with a population of less than 10,000.
Basalt Sales Tax Collections Down 6.67% in First Quarter
Basalt’s sales tax revenues have taken a 6.67 percent dive during the first quarter of this year compared to the same period of 2013, but Town Manager Mike Scanlon said it’s too soon to worry.
Scanlon said he wants to wait until June to allow more time for a trend to develop. Monthly sales were down in January and February compared to the prior year. March logged a modest increase in sales, according to a report by Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director Judi Tippetts.
Last year was the strongest in Basalt’s history for sales tax revenues and the first strong year-to-year increase since the recession hit in 2008. Sales tax collections soared 19 percent to $4.09 million.
Total retail sales revenues by all businesses were $981,932 for the first quarter this year compared to $1,052,162 last year, the town’s report showed.
Basalt Approves Retail Pot Shop Rules, will Consider Other Facilities
The Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night moved forward with rules designed to allow the sale of recreational marijuana.
The board also kept the door open for the possibility of allowing manufacturing facilities and kitchens for infused products after Town Manager Mike Scanlon revealed that an entrepreneur approached him with a desire to open a 20,000-square-foot facility in Basalt. However, the council’s discussion on manufacturing facilities was put off for another day.
The council took two votes that moved recreational pot shops closer to reality. The first 5-0 vote approved a second and final reading of an ordinance that establishes the zoning that dictates where pot shops can operate. They are restricted from neighborhoods with preschools and schools, travel corridors for schools, and in the commercial core.
Planning and Zoning Commission Considers a Unified Development Code
Town’s Busiest Intersection Moving One Block North
Carbondale’s busiest intersection will move one block to the north when Highway 133 construction begins and CDOT installs a temporary traffic light at Colorado Avenue to replace the Main Street traffic signal. Construction on the 1.9 miles, $9.4 million projects is scheduled to start on May 27 and conclude in November, according to CDOT officials, and will bring the following improvements: A round-about at the intersection of Highway 133 and Main Street; A wider highway and reconfigured lanes, beginning at the Highway 82 intersection; Additional sidewalks and trails; Extensive landscaping up and down the entire stretch, including the roundabout itself. “When finished, the plan … will allow traffic to flow more efficiently, increase pedestrian and motorist safety, and enhance the aesthetics on this … highway,” said a CDOT press release
Pitkin County Plans to Expand the Life of its Landfill
“Our top goal is to divert material and extend the life of the landfill,” said Brian Petit, the director of public works for Pitkin County. “It’s really a win-win-win-win situation. The county will make money when materials are brought to the landfill. Because this crushable material isn’t being buried and taking up space, that will extend the life of the landfill. A lot of the aggregate will be used within our community, so it’s literally being recycled. On top of all that, the county will make money selling the aggregate product.”
Regional First Quarter Stats Strong in Garfield County
Land Title Guarantee Company’s monthly report showed that the first quarter was solid beyond Pitkin County. The dollar volume of sales in Garfield County was $84.45 million, an increase of 38 percent over the first quarter of 2013 even though transactions fell by 10 percent.
In the mid-valley area around Basalt and El Jebel, transactions were flat during the first quarter but the sales volume was up 35 percent to $56.11 million.
Draft Plan for State’s Water Future Released
The Colorado River Basin Roundtable has released its draft Basin Implementation Plan. The plan, laboriously prepared by consultants at SGM in Glenwood Springs includes 89 dense pages.
Glenwood Signs on to Anti-drilling Letter
A unanimous Glenwood Springs City Council agreed Thursday to sign on to neighboring Pitkin County’s letter asking the Bureau of Land Management to cancel 25 oil and gas leases in Thompson Divide despite cautions from Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin about possible fiscal implications should that happen.
“If the leases are withdrawn or canceled, it is a taking because there is a binding contract” between leaseholders and the federal government, Martin told the council.
It’s an issue that may ultimately be decided in court, and damages could include requiring local governments that receive federal mineral-lease money to refund any funds distributed from those leases, he said.
“However much was received is how much you are going to be made to pay back,” Martin said, adding that would likely be accomplished through the withholding of future lease funds rather than an actual refund.
That would impact the county’s special federal mineral-lease district, which in turn makes grants to municipalities, fire districts, and school districts in the county for various infrastructure projects and programs.
“You and the citizens are going to be paying that bill,” said Martin, who also noted that only three of the 25 Thompson Divide leases are in Garfield County.
City Council members said they’re willing to take the gamble, especially given the potential costs to Glenwood Springs’ tourism-based economy should the Thompson Divide leases eventually be developed and Four Mile Road and the city’s street network used as a heavy haul route to get to and from those gas wells.
Ski Co Foundation Gives $55K to Fight Gas Drilling
The Aspen Skiing Co.’s employee-funded Environment Foundation released four grants totaling $55,000 to Wilderness Workshop, Thompson Divide Coalition, Western Environmental Law Center, and High Country News in an attempt to thwart impacts from natural gas drilling in the region. The nonprofit Wilderness Workshop will continue its work to ensure all leasing decisions properly account for public input and existing regulations are followed. The Thompson Divide Coalition, another local nonprofit, will work to negotiate the retirement of existing oil and gas leases in the divide to preserve the area for existing surface uses.
People Tell Feds not to Change Oil, Gas Leases
DE BEQUE - Hundreds of natural gas workers, contractors, and their supporters say the Bureau of Land Management should not change dozens of energy leases it is reviewing, The Daily Sentinel reported. The pro lease crowd attended a meeting the BLM called in De Beque as part of its review of 65 oil and gas leases on land in the White River National Forest. The majority of the leases are in Mesa County, with others in Garfield, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties.