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 - Hyman Mall redevelopment approved with no complaint clause
Snowmass Village - Council exempts basement/subgrade from tax and floor area calculations
Basalt - Retirement home tripped up by lack of affordable housing
Pitkin County - Commissioners look to expand transferable development rights program
New Hyman Mall structure to include no complaint covenant
Developer John Martin received approval to tear down the two-story building at 420 E. Hyman Ave, home to CB Paws and Zocalito restaurant, and replace it with a three-story, 38-foot-tall building with a condominium on the top floor. It will mark the first major construction project in a pedestrian mall in decades.
The approval requires a covenant where the owner or resident in the residential unit acknowledge their location in the commercial core and agree not to interfere with, or object to, activities that are lawfully permitted downtown.
Mayor Steve Skadron did not support the project, because it is not compatible with existing uses in the commercial core. Three other council members said, however, that the no complaint clause was a reasonable compromise, and voted in favor of the project.
Spring Building fills up as Aspen’s business district moves east
People who doubted the viability of a restaurant in the Spring Building, at the corner of Spring and Hopkins, appear to have been proven wrong: The building is fully occupied, and its restaurant is expanding.
Developer Rudin West LLC’s bet on the viability of a new pedestrian corridor along the eastern edge of downtown appears to be paying off. Relocation of Susie’s Consignment into the Concept 600 Building, a block away, and completion of the Aspen Art Museum at Spring and Hyman both support the notion.
Rudin West LLC is also planning to redevelop the Jerome Professional Building, at Mill and Bleeker, with a mixed use building similar to the Spring Building.
City looks to add certainty to land use approval process
Aspen City Council is considering an amendment to its land use code that would streamline the approval process by allowing applicants to lock in major details — such as height, mass and lot coverage — early in the process. Currently, those details are not ironed out until final review, which in some cases result in costly redesigns at the end of the process. Critics maintain that the existing process allows for full review by community members, and the change will result in less opportunity for input and revision. The council will vote on the amendment on Oct. 14.
Crystal Palace sold for $12.5 million
The Crystal Palace building in downtown Aspen sold at the end of the month in a deal worth $12.5 million. The space has been mostly dormant since Mead Metcalf, who owned and operated the Crystal Palace dinner theater, sold it for $8.9 million to Michigan businessman Linden Nelson in May 2008.
The deal also includes the Grande Finale building next door to the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace building is 12,650 square feet, and the Grande Finale 2,226 square feet. Neither property had been listed for sale.
St. Regis wants to close doors during off season
St. Regis Aspen Resort is seeking to amend a provision of its development approval that requires year-round operations and shut down its 179-room hotel during off seasons. Managers say low occupancy costs the hotel money in labor and maintenance costs justify the change. They also pointed out that employees who are forced to work don’t have the tipping opportunities that are available the rest of the year. The spa will remain open to the public. The restaurant, pool and gym would remain available for use by fractional-ownership residents.
Hyatt Grand Aspen, former director of sales face off in federal court
A former real estate broker for Hyatt Grand Aspen has filed a lawsuit claiming he was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on what he says are the company’s ethical violations.
Ian Mullin v. Hyatt Residential Group Inc. — in Federal District Court — says Mullin became Hyatt’s director of sales and marketing in Aspen in July 2010 and soon discovered that Hyatt was not informing owners of purchase offers. He was fired after he independently began to inform owners and their representatives. Hyatt terminated Mullin “for his refusal to violate the ethical standards that govern Colorado real-estate brokers, which caused Mr. Mullin injuries and damages,” says the lawsuit.
The company denies wrongdoing.
Housing authority to update rules, qualifications for affordable housing
Aspen and Pitkin County are considering changes to affordable-housing regulations, including higher asset limits for purchasing deed-restricted housing. Those guidelines, which limit the amount of property and wealth an affordable-housing buyer can hold, haven’t been adjusted in more than a decade.
Additionally, the two boards are considering a recommendation that affordable housing residents not be eligible for looser retirement-age regulations until they qualify for full benefits from the Social Security Administration.
City set to install security system at Yellowbrick
City Council approved a $96,694 security system at the Yellow Brick Building, which houses Kids’ First and childcare providers. Two open houses involving 20 parents indicated strong support for enhanced security. The system will include cameras, panic buttons, an intercom system and an access-code reader.
Retail and lodging numbers come in strong for July
Retail sales in Aspen this July were 5.5 percent higher than July 2012, marking the first time that retail sales have topped $60 million. Year-over-year spending on accommodations grew by $1 million — or 6.5 percent — to $16.3 million in July 2013, but occupancy for the month fell from 79.6 percent to 77.4 percent.
Aspen Skiing Company counsel steps down
Aspen Skiing Co. general counsel Dave Bellack announced he is leaving the firm after 19 years. Bellack, 54, said having two grown children off to college motivated him to make a life change. He’s not sure what his next move will be, career-wise. His only immediate plans are to ski 100 days this winter.
Local, national forecasters predict snowy winter
Ryan Boudreau with AspenWeather.net predicts the upcoming ski season will be a good one, because there is no La Nina or El Nino weather effect in play. Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Harris Farmers’ Almanac are also predicting good winters. “Winter will be much snowier than normal,” says Old Farmer’s Almanac. “The snowiest periods will be in late November, early and mid-December, mid- and late January, mid-February and early March.”
United adds seats, capacity to Aspen this winter
United Airlines will add four extra seats to each plane serving Aspen, increasing capacity by more than 10,000 seats this winter. The space is available because the airline is eliminating the economy-plus seating and the extra leg room that goes with that higher-priced zone on regional jets that serve Aspen.
September much wetter than normal
The city of Aspen recorded 2.68 inches of precipitation in September, an increase of about 1 inch compared with the month’s 1.76-inch average. September was the third consecutive month of strong monsoon weather patterns, allowing the Aspen City Council to lift its drought designation Sept. 23.
Art museum on schedule for August 2014 opening
Aspen Art Museum general contractor Turner Construction and its subs typically have 40 workers on the Spring Street site daily, and are expected to complete work on the new facility by August 2014. The design includes “post-tension slabs,” sections of concrete that have been pre-stressed to increase their strength, to allow for large open spaces inside.
Rubey Park falls short on bus parking
A proposed redesign of Rubey Park will cost an estimated $4-5 million, but come up short of the 29 parking spaces the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority says it needs for its buses. The design by Bluegreen, Inc. addresses pedestrian safety, rider amenities and workspace for RFTA employees, but only includes 25 parking spaces for buses. Councilman Adam Frisch criticized the design, saying anything less than 28 parking spots is insufficient.
Council exempts basement build out from floor area calculations
Snowmass Village Town Council amended its land-use code last month to exempt up to 1,000 square feet of finished basement/subgrade development from floor area limits in the land use code and the town excise tax. The exempted area cannot exceed 15 percent of the total habitable space in a dwelling.
A working group advising Town Council recommended the exemption because it is something many homeowners desire. They also said many builder and homeowners have been finishing out below-grade spaces illegally anyway. That recommendation became law on a split, 3-2 vote by Town Council.
Councilman Jason Haber voted against the change, saying he would rather tighten enforcement than accommodate violations.
Related replaces grocer at Snowmass Center
Longtime Snowmass Village grocer Village Market will be replaced by Clark’s Market at the Snowmass Center next April.
The announcement in late September provoked a fair amount of criticism toward landlord Related Colorado and its president, Dwayne Romero. He defended the switch, saying that Clark’s presented a better plan for future. When Clark’s opens in Snowmass next spring, the store will be 4,000 square feet larger than the existing grocery, with most of the new areas dedicated to retail.
Water and sanitation district in Snowmass seeks reauthorization and increase
The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is asking voters to extend and increase a property tax to fund its capital investments and operations. Question 5A seeks to extend existing rate of 1.297 mills and add another 0.8380 mills to pay for infrastructure upgrades.
Wildcat Ranch Lot 5 sells for $44 million
A property in Wildcat Ranch subdivision sold for $44 million at the end of September, the largest sale in the Aspen-area since Peter Guber’s Mandalay Ranch sold for $46 million in February 2004. Lot 5 of Wildcat Ranch features a 24,000-square-foot main house, a two-bedroom guesthouse and a five-stall barn on a 504-acre acre lot. The seller was JVB Properties LLC and the buyer was Skyridge Homes LLC.
LA restaurateur, Related team in Base Village dining ventures
Los Angeles restaurateur Tim Goodell and Related Colorado are partners in the two new ventures, Ricard Brasserie and Liquor Bar and Bia Hoi Southeast Asian Street Food. Ricard will occupy the 4,800-square-foot Base Village property previously occupied by Sneaky’s Tavern. Bia Hoi is moving into a 2,800-square-foot space that previously was home to Burger Bar.
Goodell is a part-time Aspen resident who says he is well-aware of the trials other entrepreneurs in Base Village have experienced, but thinks the partnership will overcome the those challenges.
Limited Burnt Mountain trail work approved by USFS
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams will allow Aspen Skiing Co. to undertake a modest amount of glading to create a better exit route off Burnt Mountain into Snowmass Ski Area. The approved action doesn’t allow Skico to remove as many trees as it proposed, but allows more work than an environmental organization and some backcountry ski enthusiasts wanted.
Feature film “Wichita” being shot in Snowmass Village
Three recent USC film school graduates and their new company, Stressless Productions, are shooting “Wichita”, a psychological horror flick modeled loosely after “The Blair Witch Project,” in a home on Faraway Road for four weeks this off-season. Most of the filming will incur inside the house but filmmakers also will utilize the road for short periods of time. Thirty cast and crew members will be staying in Destination Snowmass properties, and the company also is helping with some of their catering needs.
Retirement community plan stumbles over affordable housing requirement
Aspen Valley Foundation’s application to build a continuing-care retirement community in Basalt has been tabled until an agreement on affordable housing is reached.
Town code requires 39 affordable-housing units to accompany the project, as currently conceived. But developer representative Richard Shaw says that would make the project fiscally infeasible. The foundation has offered to waive the yet-to-be-determined entry fee on 12 of 78 independent housing units and build one affordable-housing unit for an employee, but that’s not enough for town council.
Councilwoman Karin Teague said the project is welcome, but the proposal doesn’t provide any truly affordable housing. She and her colleagues voted 5-2 to delay review until the developer includes affordable housing.
Town takes over Pan and Fork to hasten relocation
Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon will take over management of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park in order to accelerate relocation of the 122 residents by March 2014. The plan is to move about one family per week out of the neighborhood. Once the residents are relocated, the town undertake infrastructure improvements.
The nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corporation, which co-owns with the town the land that makes up the trailer park, agreed to the management shift after the town agreed to pay it enough money to cover payments on its loan for the property.
The town plans to move all the residents regardless of whether voters agree to a $5 million bond issue to perform infrastructure improvements throughout the property. Current plans call for redevelopment of the land closest to downtown with commercial, retail, office and possibly a boutique hotel, while the section along the Roaring Fork River will become a public park.
Basalt seeks funding for Pan and Fork, park maintenance
Basalt is seeking direction from voters in the upcoming election on two spending matters, neither of which requires a tax increase.
Question 2B asks for permission to increase municipal debt by up to $5 million to finance the infrastructure improvements necessary for redevelopment of the Pan and Fork Trailer Park. Town officials don’t believe future sales tax revenues will be enough to repay the debt, but if they come in lower than estimated, a property tax will be levied.
Question 2C asks voters to allow up to 10 percent of the existing sales tax dedicated to trails and open space be used for general maintenance. Currently, the tax is dedicated exclusively for property purchases and capital improvements.
Basalt can’t decide what to do about outdoor televisions
Basalt Town Council last month voted in favor of allowing outdoor televisions … but now may vote against it.
Council voted 4-3 in early September to overturn a planning staff finding that Garrett Reuss’ rooftop deck television at 303 E. Sopris Drive violates the town lighting code. Councilman Mark Kittle said at the time that applying the lighting code to televisions was a stretch.
But Kittle came back to the next council meeting saying he had changed his mind and would like to discuss it again. Council will reconsider its decision on Oct. 8.
Midvalley voters asked to fund rec center
Midvalley voters living in the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District face two questions on a proposed recreation center.
Question 4C asks for a 2.5 mill levy increase to generate the money to operate and maintain the proposed 63,100-square-foot recreation center in El Jebel. The tax increase amounts to $1.66 a month per $100,000 of assessed value.
Question 4D seeks taxing authority for $25 million in debt to finance the construction of the recreation center with a property tax increase of 5 mills. It would cost homeowners an estimated $3.85 per month for each $100,000 of assessed value.
County begins wide-ranging discussion of TDR program
Since the Transferable Development Program began in 1994, they have been used to protect the backcountry, scenic views, steep slopes and historic structures from residential development. Now the county is reviewing the program, and County Commissioners appear ready to expand their uses.
Commissioner Steve Child suggested TDRs be granted to people who agree to leave some of their water rights in the stream during drought. Commissioner Rachel Richards proposed, and her colleague Rob Ittner agreed, granting TDRs to developers who construct affordable housing in or around Aspen’s urban core.
Commissioner George Newman wants to set limits on the BOCC’s flexibility in granting TDRs, but commissioner Michael Owsley countered that case-by-case negotiation has the virtuous effect of making applicants compete for the TDRs that they desire.
Ittner suggested the creation of “fractional TDRs” worth less in monetary and development value than a full TDR. If they paid less for a fractional TDR, people may feel comfortable building smaller houses.
Community Development Director Cindy Houben asked whether the use of TDRs to build large homes is in line with community goals. She suggested that the square-footage value of a full TDR used for home expansion be reduced as the building size approached the 15,000-square-foot limit. For instance, the first TDR would be worth 2,500 square feet, the next 1,500 square feet, then 750 square feet, etc.
Discussions are expected to continue into the fall.
Commissioners delay final rules for recreational marijuana
Pitkin County commissioners appointed County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill as the agent in charge of accepting and processing licenses for recreational marijuana shops, grow operations, product manufacturing centers and testing facilities, but postponed adoption of regulations to govern those activities.
The state is expected to start issuing licenses in early January. If county government does not have rules in place by then, marijuana business owners will be barred from doing business until regulations are adopted.
Commissioner Steve Child urged the county to move quickly and adopt licensing regulations, noting 75 percent of county voters favored legalizing recreational marijuana. But three commissioners — Rachel Richards, Michael Owsley and George Newman — said they would likely consider recent neighborhood caucus votes recommending a ban or moratorium on all marijuana enterprises.
USFS, BLM shut down affects area forests, recreational areas
U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management offices will be closed, and most employees furloughed, after lawmakers in Washington failed to pass a spending resolution by Oct. 1. However, public lands and trails managed by the federal agencies were expected to remain open for the duration of the shutdown, though without rangers or amenities.
The Maroon Bells Scenic Area will remain accessible by car. But Forest Service staff will not be on duty and amenities, including campgrounds, at the Maroon Bells Scenic Area will be shuttered. Bathrooms will be locked and water has been cut off in the scenic area and campgrounds. All BLM campgrounds will be closed as well.
Trails, like the network of mountain biking routes off of Prince Creek Road, will remain open.Operations of local ski areas, which the Aspen Skiing Co. lease from the Forest Service, are not be affected.
West of Maroon Creek Plan nearing approval
The proposed West of Maroon Creek Plan, expected to be approved on Oct. 8 by the county Planning and Zoning Commission, will guide development at the Pitkin County Airport, the Airport Business Center, the Buttermilk ski area, the Inn at Aspen and other properties along Highway 82 between the Maroon Creek bridge and the end of the Airport. It is written to help prevent sprawl and retain scenic views along what is being called the gateway to Aspen, according to county officials.
An Oct. 8 public open house begins at 5 p.m., followed by the public hearing at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen.
Wildlife officer raises red flag over mountain bike trail development
Aspen’s district wildlife manager with is asking city and county open space managers, the Aspen Skiing Co. and area user groups like the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association to slow down in their rush to build new trails.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife longtime wildlife officer Kevin Wright says the community needs to recognize recreation’s impact on deer, elk and other creatures.
The comments may jeopardize mountain bikers plans to build new single-track trails linking Aspen with Sky Mountain Park. The problem, Wright says, is that Buttermilk is adjacent to Burnt Mountain, a fragile and significant elk calving habitat area. Government Trail, a popular mountain bike route that connects Buttermilk and Snowmass through the Burnt Mountain area, is closed each spring so elk can mate in peace.
In general, Wright said, the increased promotion of recreation in the Roaring Fork Valley “puts a tremendous amount of pressure” on wildlife.
Infrastructure work at Aspen Business Center will run into spring
Road, storm water drainage and trail work under way at the Aspen Business Center will continue through the winter and spring. The project originally was scheduled to conclude this fall at a cost of $2.6 million, but grew in length and cost — to $3.4 million — after several enhancements were added to the original proposal.
RFTA underpass to be “functional” by Thanksgiving
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials say the delay-plagued pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 at the airport is at least four weeks behind schedule, but will nevertheless be “functional” by the time ski season starts.
Contractor Flatiron Construction has come under sharp criticism for the delays, and will soon begin paying daily fines for each day past the deadline the project remains unfinished. That could get expensive because the work isn’t expected to be done until next spring.
More than $8 million in pot found on public lands near Redstone
The U.S. Forest Service estimates the value of an illegal marijuana grow in the White River National Forest near Redstone at $8.4 million. The 2-3 acre site contained 3,375 plants that were up to 5 feet high. No arrests have been made and the case remains under investigation. The contraband pot was destroyed.
Aspen’s Studio B Architects wins Community School contract
Studio B Architects will partner with the Denver-based Cuningham Group Architects to design a new classroom building other facilities at the Aspen Community School Campus above Woody Creek. Over the last eight years, the firms have worked together on redesign of the Aspen Middle School, an addition to the Aspen Elementary School and the yet-to-be-built Ross Montessori School in Carbondale.
John Denver statue removed from Windstar
A larger-than-life bronze statue of John Denver called “Spirit” was removed from the Windstar property in Old Snowmass and shipped to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in Denver. The move was required after Windstar Land Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Institute sold the 957 acre Windstar property earlier this year for $8.5 million.
Of the more than $4 million that went to the Conservancy as a result of the sale, $1,870,220 has been dispersed to local environmental groups. The remaining funds will be invested to create an endowment for future grant making.
Conundrum fan presses Forest Service on remote cabin
Boulder resident Evan Ravitz has visited Conundrum Hot Springs “some 600 days over 34 years” and soaked more than 4,000 hours. He says the U.S. Forest Service should put the roof back on a cabin at the site so hikers caught in “vicious hailstorms” and late-spring snowstorms can take cover. The hot springs are an 8.5 mile hike from the nearest road, and located at 11,250 feet.
Forest Service officials consider the cabin “an attractive nuisance” that is located inside a wilderness area. The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness management plan dictates that the agency will allow the vast majority of cabins and “fall into ruin at the hands of the elements.”