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Enough studies, panel tells Vail

By Allen Best VAIL, Colo. – A panel from the Urban Land Institute that visited Vail and the Eagle Valley in early December told the locals that it’s time to get busy with affordable housing and quit studying it.

By Allen Best

VAIL, Colo. – A panel from the Urban Land Institute that visited Vail and the Eagle Valley in early December told the locals that it’s time to get busy with affordable housing and quit studying it.

“If you go into Google and look up Eagle County, there’s study after study after study,” said the panel’s spokesman, Tony Salazar, a principal in a Los Angeles-based development company. “Enough, already. We want this to be your last study.”

The panel recommended that Eagle County create a countywide housing authority that will have the ability to sign contracts with developers, and perhaps, collect taxes.

“If you don’t have the political will to act, you’ll be the county equivalent to a Third World country,” Salazar said. The group estimates that the Eagle Valley, where Vail is located, will need 8,400 new rental and for-sale homes in the next decade.

This report comes on the heels of a major binge in construction of lower-cost housing of all types — for rent, for sale, deed-restricted and not — during the last five years. Vail itself has an affordable housing program that may be second only to that of Aspen among Colorado mountain towns.

The county has an estimated population of more than 50,000, but is expected by demographers to have another 32,000 residents within two decades. Even more disturbing, the county is projected to add 36,000 new jobs, partly to service a growing number of affluent retirees and vacation home owners. This is expected to cause even more people to commute to lateral communities.

“What you don’t want is to keep stretching out the distance between second homes and people who work here,” Salazar said. “That destroys the fabric of the community.”

Virtually nothing in the ULI report was new, but an organizer, Don Cohen, said he believes the view from outside experts will ignite action. “This isn’t going to be shelf ware,” he insists. “This report really will serve as a catalyst to developing more sophisticated ways of looking at the problem and bringing the communities together.”

This report also coincides with a renewed focus on affordable housing in Vail, where some council members have been expressing alarm at current trends. The town’s stated goal, similar to that in Aspen, is to have 30 per cent of all the local workforce live within the town. The town currently is close to that level. But more than $1 billion in redevelopment is underway, with more in the pipeline, which will yield hundreds of new jobs.

At the same time, Vail has been at risk of losing one of its major low-cost housing projects, called Timber Ridge. The town and the ski company, Vail Resorts, are currently laying plans to redevelop the ’70s-era project.

Vail is also looking at adopting inclusionary zoning and both commercial and residential linkage ordinances, putting the onus on developers to deliver affordable housing in all cases.


Bikers complain of restrictions

CANMORE, Alberta – Compared to Colorado, or most anywhere in the United States, wildlife gets a wide berth in Alberta’s Bow River Valley. This, after all, is where broad overpasses across the four-lane TransCanada Highway have been built specifically to expedite movement by bears, wolves, and other animals. Similar ideas in Colorado remain just talk.

But developers in the Canmore-Banff area have also been forced to concede significant turf to wildlife. A development called Three Sisters Mountain Village is being forced to dedicate a major corridor along its edge to allow a functional wildlife highway.

At 635 metres wide, it’s narrower than the 1,150 metres that wildlife advocates say biologists had believed necessary for wildlife. And some of this corridor includes human uses, such as a golf course and even homes. But the homes are low density, with their fronts away from the corridor. Even the golf course buildings are situated more distant from the central part of the corridor.

This arrangement, 14 years in the making, was capped in early December by an easement adopted by the Canmore Council that precludes trails or other human use in the core of the wildlife corridor. This dedication drew praise from a group called the Bow Corridor Organization for Responsible Development.

But the Bow Valley Mountain Bike Alliance reported great sacrifice by bikers, hikers, and other recreationalists, something akin to a golf course developer giving up four or five of his best holes. And mountain bikers have become the whipping posts of both hard-core environmentalists and land managers.

Why is this so?

“Recreationalists are inherently individualist. They are sympathetic to the call for functional wildlife corridors. They do not file lawsuits. In a nutshell, sacrificing recreational access is a convenient, quick and cost-effective way for politicians and land managers (at all three levels of government) to say they are ‘doing something,’” said the directors of the Mountain Bike Alliance in a letter published in the Rocky Mountain Outlook.


Eco-arsonists plead guilty

VAIL, Colo. – The long mystery about the fires on Vail Mountain on Oct. 14, 1998, ended earlier this year when several people in Oregon admitted the arson that caused $12 million damage, including the loss of a restaurant called Two Elk.

Two of the people, Chelsea Gerlach and Stanislas Meyerhoff, both 29, pleaded guilty on Dec. 14 to the Colorado fires as well as a string of other arson and vandalism in the West. In e-mail messages sent to various media, the fires at Vail had been credited to an anonymously-faced group called the Earth Liberation Front.

At the time, there was some speculation that others in the Vail area, and even the ski area operator itself, might have set the fires. The pair, however, confirmed that federal authorities had been right in suspecting radical environmentalists.

Since his arrest, Meyerhoff has renounced the ELF. In return for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors are recommending he be sentenced to 15 years, 8 months in prison. Gerlach’s prosecutors have recommended a 10-year sentence for Gerlach.

Gerlach said she had been motivated by a “deep sense of despair and anger at the deteriorating state of the global environment.”

The Vail fires were called the most destructive act known to be committed by environmental activists in U.S. history, and came just as work had begun on a major expansion of ski terrain — the largest ever in North America — into national forest land where evidence of the endangered Canada lynx had been found.

In a story published in August, Rolling Stone Magazine says that such acts of environmental protests were labeled by the FBI in 2003 in the same category as attacks by Al Qaeda, despite the fact that environmental activists avoided human lives. “In a post-9/11 world where every FBI agent wants to catch a terrorist, an ‘eco-terrorist’ is better than nothing,” said the magazine.

But even at the time of the arson in Vail, the acts of violence were branded as wasteful by those who had been working on behalf of lynx the longest.

Taking a longer view, Rolling Stone spoke with Mike Roselle, co-founder of Earth First! and the Ruckus Society, both of them civil-disobedience groups.

“This is such a waste of good people,” said Rosellee of the ELF arsonists. “I’ll bet I trained some of these people in nonviolent civil disobedience, and we taught them that history shows that radical movements that are violent make people paranoid, isolated and easy for the feds to pick off.”


Jet owner concedes defeat

KETCHUM, Idaho – The California businessmen who tried to land his 737-type Boeing airplane at the airport near Ketchum and Sun Valley has finally conceded defeat by paying $147,000 in attorney fees.

Airport authorities had told Ronald Tutor that his airplane exceeded the airport’s 95,000-pound weight limit for aircraft, and said they would attempt to have his pilot’s license revoked. He then sued, claiming violation of his constitutional rights and that his ability to travel was impaired. But a federal district court judge ruled that Tutor was at worst inconvenienced. He reportedly owns a smaller Gulfstream jet that is allowed to land at the airport, says the Idaho Mountain Express.


Banff looks for bus models

BANFF, Alberta – A delegation from Banff, Lake Louise, and the Bow River Valley traveled to Colorado to study how major valley-long bus shuttles can be assembled and financed.

The fundamental problem driving the trip, according to Banff Mayor John Stutz, is that personal transportation is eroding what he calls the Banff brand. Alone among major resort towns in the North American West, it is located entirely within a national park.

“The brand that we have in Banff, of being a municipality in a national park, traffic is sort of eroding that,” Stutz told the Banff Crag & Canyon.

For models, the delegation studied the Aspen/Roaring Fork Valley and Vail/Eagle Valley bus systems. The systems in the two valleys are strikingly similar. Both serve large commuter sheds and multiple ski hills, four in the case of Aspen, and two in the case of Vail. Also, both are primarily financed by sales tax collections. Fleets in both valleys employ hybrid-powered buses. And buses in Aspen and Vail proper are free.

The Roaring Fork bus agency, called Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, was created in 1983 and serves a commuter-shed of 70 miles. ECO Transit, which services Vail, was created in 1995 and serves a commuter-shed of 70 miles.

Banff and associated resorts are now charging a 2 per cent room fee at hotels. Organizers hope to get an authority established and buses on the road within a year, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.


Express buses may be next

ASPEN, Colo. – The traffic count along Highway 82 in the Roaring Fork Valley, between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, has remained flat at 1993 levels, owing to increased bus service offered by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. This year alone ridership on the buses from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and beyond has increased 10 per cent.

But traffic on the highway is thick, congealing at the entrance to Aspen during morning and evening rush hours. And government officials warn that traffic will worsen in coming years unless even more attractive mass transit is offered to commuters.

For years, government officials looked at reviving rail. But the enormous expense of that, estimated at $400 million, instead has officials looking at an alternative called bus-rapid transit, or BRT, which is estimated to cost $120 million, reports The Aspen Times. The goal is to approach the speeds and comfort of rail transit while still enjoying the lower cost of buses.

In the Roaring Fork Valley, fewer stops would be offered, and hence travel time would be abbreviated. Also, there is talk of having more comfortable buildings, instead of the outdoor shelters now offered waiting riders. Transportation planners also are thinking of getting more computer devices that allow more rapid boarding, for example, and other devices that give buses advantages at stop lights.

Buses could also be aided by new traffic lanes at Aspen’s congested entrance dedicated to buses and other high-occupancy vehicles. Planners estimated dedicated bus lanes at Aspen’s entrance would save 5 to 40 minutes in transit time during rush hour.

Randy Udall, a locally based energy expert, says money invested in mass transit is a wise choice. “We’re over-invested in pavement; we’re over-invested in the automobile,” he told The Times.

Udall believes the world is now or will soon reach its peak oil production, even as demand from China and Indian ratchet up. It took 125 years to consume the first trillion barrels of oil, but it will take only 30 years to use the next trillion barrels, he said.


Choppers carry transceivers

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – All the statistics show that once caught in a larger avalanche, one’s chances of survival are, at best, middlin’. Many victims get battered to death. But even for those who survive the tumble but end up buried, the time is short for recovery. Beyond 15 minutes, the odds of survival go south precipitously.

Wearing a transceiver — and having companions nearby who are similarly equipped and also have probes and shovels and know how to use them — is the best bet, but that only rarely occurs. With that in mind, several helicopters based in Utah’s Wasatch Front now have locator systems that could provide more rapid detection.

The Associated Press reports a demonstration of the technology, which has been in use for several years in Europe. “Helicopters flew a short hop to a snow field to pick up signals from buried avalanche beacons,” reports AP. “They appeared to do the job in minutes.”

Dean Cardinale, president of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, noted that it can take ground rescue groups an hour to reach an avalanche if traveling across dangerous terrain or in severe weather.


Vail tops Aspen in sticker price

VAIL, Colo. – An adage of the ski industry is that you price for value — then discount. With that said, Vail Resorts proclaims itself to have the best skiing experience in the United States. The company last week raised its single-day lift ticket for its Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas, which were $77 last year, to $85.

This trumps the $82 charged by the Aspen Skiing Co. at its trademark Aspen Mountain property. Third at $79 is Deer Valley.

Does anybody care? After all, precious few people actually pay the full lift ticket price. Even destination skiers commonly get discounts.

Meg Campbell, associate professor of marketing at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder, tells The Aspen Times that sticker price does matter. “There is a strong presumption among consumers that price indicates quality and prestige.”

However, the sticker price should not be confused with the bottom line. Ski Area Management, an industry trade magazine, reports that nationally two seasons ago the average lift ticket sale was only 60 per cent of the value price. Among big ski areas it was far less, only 52 per cent, and at large ski areas in the Rocky Mountains it was only 50.1 per cent.

Aspen and Vail have had a history for decades of playing off one another. Jerry Jones, who has worked at both, recalls that during the 1980s, when he was at Vail, Vail deliberately waited until Aspen reported its new lift ticket price, then came in a few dollars less.

“We wanted them to take the flak, but we wanted them to raise the price,” said Jones.


Steamboat studies linkages

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – City officials continue to study a proposal policy called linkage that would exact fees from developers of commercial and residential real estate for creation of affordable housing.

Construction in Steamboat Springs is currently running up to $300 per square foot, and the proposed policy could assess fees of anywhere from $3 to $36 per square foot. Similarly linkage policies are already in place in Aspen, Telluride, and Snowmass.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today reports some disagreement among council members. Loui Antonucci warns against causing a slow-down in construction. But City Council President Ken Brenner said he does not believe linkage fees would deter a developer from building in Steamboat’s booming real estate market. While the council looks at linkage rates of between 5 and 15 per cent, Councilman Paul Strong said he would support a fee at the lower end. The city already has inclusionary zoning.

Meanwhile, a development located about 20 miles from Steamboat Springs has gotten no takers for its deed-restricted housing. Mountain Valley Communities — composed of Steve Barwick, Ren Martyn and Rob Van Deren — had developed 29 single-family homes at Stagecoach, the old ski area that was started and then closed in the early 1970s. They voluntarily placed deed restrictions on eight of the homes to make them permanently affordable to low to moderate income buyers.

They have sold all the market-rate homes, but not even one deed-restricted home. If the deed-restricted homes remain unsold through next summer, Martyn told Steamboat Pilot & Today, they will petition the county commissioners to remove the deed restrictions.

What went wrong? Barwick conceded that the three-bedroom, two-bath homes, with prices of $335,000, are at the high end of affordable housing for the Yampa Valley. “We built too big and too nice of a house,” Martyn said. But Mary Alice Page-Allen, a planner in Routt County and treasurer of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said the developers could have done more — such as increase their subsidy — to sell the affordable units.

The Pilot also reports that real-estate agents are having difficulty selling deed-restricted lower-cost townhomes in a project called West End Village. The project is located in Steamboat Springs.


Another building moratorium

ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen City Council has enacted a six-month moratorium on projects that involve interior renovations in the city’s commercial core. Off-limits will be such things as tiling, counter tops and also built-in furniture such as booths, banquettes and shelving.

The moratorium is a response to broad, simmering issues about perceived loss of character in Aspen. That change is reflected in the closing next March of the legendary Red Onion, a locals’ restaurant, which cannot afford the market lease rates.

“I think the conversation’s a hell of a lot bigger than one business or one building,” City Councilman Jack Johnson told The Aspen Times.

The newspaper did not say what the council intends to do during the moratorium. It comes on top of another moratorium on new buildings in the city’s commercial core. Despite the moratoriums, much work is already in progress in new and redevelopments.


Truckee rejects Utah coal

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Three months ago few people in Truckee knew where their electricity came from. They still may not know, but one thing is for certain: In coming years it will not be produced at a new coal-burning power plant proposed for Utah, about 100 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

In a case that drew broad attention on the West Coast, directors of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District rejected a 50-year contract for electricity from the plant. Proponents had said the contract would have yielded a dependable source of electricity at a good price for the district, which is facing sharply increased demand as the population grows.

But California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the proposed contract a clear attempt to circumvent a new California law. “This contract will undoubtedly compromise the progress California made this year by signing into law one of the most sweeping greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the world.”

The law, which takes effect in January, will prohibit California utilities from purchasing electricity from outside the state if made in ways not allowed inside the state. In other words, the law is aiming at traditional coal-burning power plants.

Burning of coal produces more greenhouse gases than does burning of natural gas. However, coal is far more plentiful, and hence the electricity is far cheaper than electricity produced by burning natural gas.

Truckee’s Sierra Sun was filled with debate on the issue for several weeks. “This mountain ski town can continue to depend on coal burned hundreds of miles away in Utah for electric power, or it can choose to follow a less risky path and follow the lead of progressive southern California cities by rejecting coal-fired power,” wrote one V. Jon White.

One of the utility district board members, Ron Hemig, told the Sacramento Bee that the outpouring of community objections took him by surprise. “Until a month ago, we never heard anything from our public except ‘keep rates down,’” Hemig said. “The community never spoke to the board ever… on the subject of coal.”

Just what will provide the electricity for the 12,000 consumers of the Truckee Donner district is unclear. The debate drew attention to the potential for greater energy conservation but also to potential creation of alternative energy sources such as from biomass, wind, and small hydroelectric installations. Truckee currently imports all of its energy.

“Coal should be the last resort, not the first. It is the dirtiest source of power,” editorialized the Bee. “Change will happen one decision at a time, sometimes in big ways, sometimes small,” the paper added. “On Wednesday night, Truckee did its part.”


More wildlife fences

EAGLE VALLEY, Colo. – Wildlife biologists for years have called Interstate 70 the Berlin Wall to wildlife in Colorado. It’s no accident that the first wolf in Colorado in 60 years was killed on the highway, as have been at least four of the reintroduced Canada lynx, plus many deer, elk, bear and even moose.

In the Eagle Valley, large portions of the highway are lined with fences that are eight-feet tall to keep wildlife off the highway. Still, some 67 animals were killed last year.

But more fence, at a cost of $3.1 million, is to be erected along the highway between Vail and Eagle, reports the Eagle Valley Enterprise. As well, ramps that are designed to allow animals that do get onto the highway a way to get off it are being installed in the Avon-Edwards area.

Similar ramps have already been installed elsewhere in Colorado near Ridgway Reservoir, between Telluride and Montrose.


11 bears killed, people learning

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Complaints of bears more than doubled in Revelstoke this year, the result of dry weather that caused berries to wither and streams to evaporate. Altogether, 11 bears were destroyed within the town after invading gardens, bird feeders, and composting piles.

Still, the death toll could have been much higher, conservation officer Adam Christie told the Revelstoke Times Review. He credited the Bear Aware educational program, which encouraged residents to minimize bear attractions.

In another community, Castlegar, at least 54 black bears were killed. More broadly in British Columbia, an average of 900 black bears and 100 grizzly bears are killed annually because of conflicts with people, noted the paper.

Revelstoke is examining how to further minimize the human-bear interactions. Under consideration are laws governing storage and removal of garbage. Revelstoke hopes to become a Bear Smart-designated community — ironic, given that the program was launched in Revelstoke in 1996.


Energy efficiencies examined

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte town officials are reviewing projections of an energy audit that sees a rapid payback for such things as light retrofits, programmable thermostats and other upgrades in municipal buildings. The total estimated cost of the upgrades is $163,000, but the savings in just the first year would be $20,000, reports the Crested Butte News.


Ski hill tries quieter snowmaking

DURANGO, Colo. –A small, community ski area in Durango called Chapman Hill is back in operation this winter, thanks to man-made snow. Snowfall in Durango is too inconsistent to ensure operations of the ski area, and neighbours complained loudly in the past about noise from snowmakers. As well, drivers complained about snow from the snow guns drifting into roads.

But after a decade in which the ski area was closed more years than not, city officials are gambling that things have changed. The big change is newer snowmaking technology that uses fans, not the traditional air-blasting guns. The new snowmaking is expected to cost $300,000.


Immigrants to be woven in

DURANGO, Colo. – A $310,000 grant has been awarded to La Plata Unity Coalition to help weave immigrants from foreign countries into the fabric of the local community. The money — $10,000 for planning, and then $75,000 annually for four years — is to be used directly for services.

The Telluride-Montrose areas also received grants from The Colorado Trust, as did the Steamboat-Craig area. “The idea is to take a proactive approach so that within 10 years we have a cohesive community without immigrants on the fringes,” Trujillo Long told the Durango Herald.

Latin Americans made up more than 5 per cent of the immigrants to Colorado during the 1990s, while Asians accounted for almost 20 per cent, and Europeans more than 17 per cent.


Community centre plans upgraded

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Architectural plans for a proposed community centre in Steamboat Springs have been revised after getting a collective yawn from the city’s planning commission. Members described the renderings as “blatantly institutional” and “extremely bland.” The new design borrows from the arts and crafts tradition by mixing and balancing materials such as shingles, stucco and stone, says architect Nan Anderson of the Golden, Colo.-based firm, Andrews and Anderson Architects. “It’s more sculptural, and more playful, than it was before,” she said.