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Horizontal zoning isn't a realtor witch-hunt

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — In an effort to preserve its struggling tourism base, Crested Butte has adopted zoning that tightly limits uses in its central shopping district.

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — In an effort to preserve its struggling tourism base, Crested Butte has adopted zoning that tightly limits uses in its central shopping district. New service-type business such as barber shops and dance studios will not be allowed on the ground floors along Elk Avenue, the town’s main street. Also banned will be new real estate offices.

Crested Butte is the third Colorado resort town to adopt exclusions, called horizontal zoning. Vail was first to take aim at ground-floor real estate offices, in 1973, followed by Aspen a year or two ago.

The move was driven by the town’s need to get taxes from sales of goods. The sales tax in Colorado is the primary vehicle for local governments to provide services such as bus shuttles, bike paths, and snow plowing.

Crested Butte Mayor Alan Bernholtz insisted that the new zoning is not a "Realtor witch-hunt," reports the Crested Butte News.

"We’re not saying you can’t be a Realtor in this town," he said. "Just remember, you can go to the second floor of a building and still sell real estate. It’s a necessity we need and use. We’re just trying to put them in the right spot."

Sean Hartigan, owner of The Last Steep, said customers have become increasingly vocal in their observations.

"People come in and say, "What in the hell is going on in this town?’" said Hartigan. They often refer to the influx of real estate offices.

"We used to be a drinking town with a skiing problem. Now it’s seems to be a real estate town with a drinking or skiing problem."

Linda Powers, a shop owner and former mayor, said that in losing its shopping opportunities, Crested Butte is losing its character. "We’re losing our heart and soul."

But there was dissent, too. The Crested Butte News explains one thought is that the market itself will sort out the best uses of the property.

"The reason retailers aren’t moving in is because they can’t support themselves," said Judy McGill, one property owner on Elk Avenue. "There is a certain thing called market conditions. Right now real estate is the business of town. That will change. It will flatten out. Offices will close."

Vail Resorts on the move

AVON, Colo. — When Vail Associates, the developer of Vail and also the Vail ski area, expanded in the 1990s and became Vail Resorts, it left Vail behind and moved down-valley to Avon. That move ruffled a few local feathers. But that was small in comparison to the move made this summer.

The company’s new chief executive officer, Rob Katz, moved the corporate headquarters to Broomfield, midway between his home in Boulder and downtown Denver. The move reflected the fact that not only is Vail Resorts no longer just in Vail, but it’s no longer just in Colorado. It also possibly lowered operating costs for the company, as mountain real estate is generally higher priced than that in cities.

But in the Vail-Beaver Creek area the move has caused some worry that the greater distance will mean less interest in the flagship properties. Bill Jensen, who now oversees Vail, Beaver Creek and California’s Heavenly for the company, disputes that notion. He tells the Vail Daily that only good will come of this realignment.

When the corporate office was close by, the ski areas gained the reputation of being "corporate" ski areas. Now, they can go back to being ski towns.

On the other hand, he told locals not to worry that Vail and Beaver Creek will lose any special attention from corporate officers – because they never got preferential treatment in the first place.

"I would urge that in my nine-plus years with the company, all the businesses, all the resorts, are treated equally," he said.

Lots of new houses, but the price…

CANMORE, Alberta — Construction is at a record-breaking pace in Canmore, where town officials through July had approved $92 million in development. But what the Rocky Mountain Outlook finds alarming is not so much the bulk of construction, but rather the escalating prices. Many of the homes are million-dollar affairs, and very few the sort that locals can afford. Still, town officials insist that they’re not going to get into large-scale affordable housing. "That’s just not a business we can afford to do," said the mayor, Ron Casey.

Biomass under scrutiny

TRUCKEE, Calif. — California’s Placer County – a vast county that extends from the suburbs of Sacramento to the shores of Lake Tahoe – continues to struggle with what to do with its aging forests.

The chief worry is the potential of catastrophic wildfires. The goal is to figure out ways to thin the forests, reducing fire potential, but putting the wood to good use.

As in Colorado and elsewhere, fingers keep pointing toward biomass energy. Plans are now being drawn up in Placer County for a plant that would either burn the trees and branches, creating energy that could be then used to heat buildings, or fermenting the wood into a biofuel. A plan is expected to be ready by autumn.

But many critical questions remain. For example, is this something that a private company would want to tackle? Is there enough wood for long-term operations? Not least is the matter of getting the trees out of the forest. That may require new roads. But even new roads may not be the full answer. Many fire-prone trees are on inaccessibly steep slopes.

"The cost of collecting and hauling the material in these areas may be very high, and this might complicate maintaining a regular flow of material," Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman told the Tahoe Bonanza.

Still, while it’s not the silver bullet for this interface between wildlands and developed communities, biomass will play "an increasingly important role in reducing hazard fuels that contribute to catastrophic wildfire behavior," said Norman. The agency also foresees more use of prescribed burns.

Smaller biomass efforts are already underway. In South Lake Tahoe, the Forest Service funded a biomass boiler that is heating buildings at a high school. In Truckee, a burner fueled by wood chips produces electricity, heating several buildings and melting snow.

But experience with the Truckee burner has not been compelling. Scott Terrell, conservation director for the Truckee Donner Publicity Utility District, reports "lots of problems" with the burner.

Terrell said his agency, which provides electricity for 14,000 customers, would love to convert the logs from the surrounding forests into electricity on a large scale, but believes existing technology is neither practical nor economical. He said the extensive research of existing technology by a consultant, Denver-based McNeil Technology, found all biomass burners in the United States lacking.

That leaves Truckee in what Terrell calls the "ludicrous" prospect of paying contractors to haul away the forest debris or burn it, instead of creating electricity through biomass burners.

"We’re not going to do it today with the technology we have today – at least the technology I am aware of," he told Mountain Town News. He said operation, maintenance, and repair are all lacking, and costs are high. He believes the technology is in the early stage of research and development.

But Terrell is optimistic that probably within 10 years, lower cost and effective biomass will be available. One type may be to create wood pellets out of the waste, and then feed them into the biomass burners. Another technology being investigated is something called biogasification, in which anaerobic bacteria is used to decompose biomass into gas, which can then be burned.

In valley of dying trees, logs imported

EAGLE, Colo. — Log buildings have been all the rage in the Eagle Valley for 10 years or more, and that is fitting. The valley – an area that extends from Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon – is flanked by thick forests of lodgepole pine as well as spruce and fir.

The irony is that these logs early on came from Montana and Idaho and, more recently, Oregon and Washington.

Why not the local trees for these new Lincoln Log homes and lodges? Because the trees grow wider and taller in the Pacific Northwest, even in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. In Colorado’s higher and drier climate, 40-foot logs are rare.

But not all builders buy into this line of thinking. The Eagle Valley Enterprise tells of a retired school principal who used pine trees killed by bark beetles to build his home. But because of the shorter, slimmer trees, a different construction technique, called post-and-beam construction, was used. The homebuilder and principal’s son, Phil Gould, used the 10- and 20-foot lodgepole pine logs in a grid pattern. This post-and-beam method creates a log home where everything is supported by posts.

This style has an inherent advantage, in that there are no settling corners, a problem that can afflict even the $5 million homes at nearby Beaver Creek. Gould told the Enterprise that the bark-beetle killed trees, when allowed to stand while dead for a while, are also drier and won’t shrink, creating the cracks and gaps found with trees that are cut while still alive.

That this house is unusual in the Eagle Valley is the greater story here. A bark beetle epidemic has been waxing now for 10 years, and the Forest Service estimates 720,000 acres of pine trees infested by bark beetles are found between Vail Pass and Avon, a town 20 miles east of Eagle. Current plans, if still somewhat unclear, call for trees to be removed from portions of 58,000 acres.

Tom Olden, one of the few loggers remaining in a valley that once had five or six sawmills, explains that old, beetle-killed trees from the Flat Tops, located to the northwest, were harvested for local homes until just a few years ago. But architects designing the expansive multi-million dollar houses are now specifying different types of logs. The logs they want have less taper than the smaller, local logs from Colorado, and instead come from the forests of big Douglas fir trees along the rainy coastal areas of Oregon and Washington. In most cases, the trees come from older-growth forests.

"Our logs have so much taper in them, it’s hard to get a wood log that is longer than 30 feet," explains Olden. He explains that the first 16 feet of local logs are cut off, because of the taper, if used for homes.

But using this post-and-beam method of construction the shorter, more tapered logs can be used. There’s less waste – and hence it’s the better thing to do environmentally, Olden maintains.

The issue of how to use the local beetle-killed trees is a significant one in the Eagle Valley. Some forests overlooking Vail appear to be 75 per cent or more dead as a result of the pine beetles. While some worry about the aesthetics of the dead trees, others have begun to fret about the potential for a conflagration.

Town and county officials have talked about creating a biomass plant, but appear to have made little progress. Colorado’s only remaining major sawmill is at Montrose, some 210 miles away from Vail. Olden says the wood from the vast beetle-killed forests in British Columbia have driven down prices of wood in the United States. Meanwhile, the price of diesel fuel has spiked sharply higher. Those crossing lines of higher costs and lower prices imperil even that last sawmill, says Olden.

The Beav goes for X-rating

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Beaver Creek skier this winter will find a small section of new skiing in an area that formerly was marked by avalanches.

The area, upper Stone Creek, on the resort’s east side, was almost never skied 15 years ago, but by two years ago was getting an estimated 1,000 trips as backcountry adventure skiers began looking further afield. It has pitches of 45 degrees.

"It’s steep. It’s got some big cliffs. It’s the real deal, for sure," long-time skier Mike Brumbaugh told the Vail Daily.

The Vail Daily noted that the expansion is part of a trend, called backcountry light, in which resorts are catering to skiers and snowboarders who want backcountry-like terrain without the physical exertion required of a real backcountry excursion or without the avalanche and other dangers of an unmanaged setting. Keystone, Breckenridge, Aspen Highlands, and Telluride have all added such terrain in recent years.

"People are looking for more of that," said John Garnsey, chief operating officer of Beaver Creek Mountain. "Even the guests of Beaver Creek – you might not think so, but they’re looking for a little bit of adventure."

X-rated terrain in demand

SILVERTON, Colo. — The largest testament to the enthusiasm for "backcountry light" skiing in the West is at Silverton Mountain. Now entering its seventh year, Silverton Mountain has more extreme skiing than any other ski area in North America.

Silverton also is now just a little bit larger, having purchased 164 acres of private land within its boundaries. Most of Silverton’s land is controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency. With this new land, Silverton now has 1,819 acres, or 14 more acres than Beaver Creek, which is also expanding this year.

This expansion also puts Silverton ahead of Telluride, making Silverton the sixth largest ski area in Colorado, if acreage is the criterion.

This will be the first season in which skiers will be allowed at Silverton without guides. The early season cost for an unlimited pass is $999.

Jackson lifestyle migrates to Idaho

DRIGGS, Idaho — Wyoming’s Jackson Hole is located east of the Teton Range, and if it is defined by its exceptional scenery, it is also a place of exceptional affluence. It is, for example, No. 2 in the nation in terms of per capita income.

But that affluence is causing both locals and buyers of vacation and retirement homes to move across Teton Pass to the west side of the range, to Idaho’s Teton Valley. There, in and around the towns of Diggs and Victor, in what the local Teton Valley News calls the "quiet side of the Tetons," things have not been so quiet of late.

The population is doubling every 15 years, and the valley now has four golf courses – golf courses predicated upon real estate development, as are most golf courses in mountain locations, where playing seasons are limited. In short, the Teton Valley is rapidly becoming like Jackson Hole, for both better and worse.

"You could say our community is moving from an agriculture-based economy – in the 1970s, it was 100 per cent – to a second home and tourism-based economy," said Jaydell Buxton, a four-generation Driggs resident who once raised potatoes, now grows grass, and eventually hopes to convert his farm into a residential golf development.

Several reasons explain this transformation, points out the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Land prices have briskly escalated in Jackson Hole, where only 3 per cent of the land is privately held, with the rest in national forests, preserves, and parks. In contrast, 67 per cent of Idaho’s Teton Valley is privately owned.

Some 1,400 people from the Teton Valley commute to Jackson Hole to work. Some of these commuters could afford to live in Jackson Hole. Teachers, for example, are getting a 48 per cent pay hike. But for their money, they can get a much larger house with a big yard and wonderful views of the Teton Range. And many say they really don’t mind the commute.

Vacation-home buyers from across the continent are also part of this story. Many such land-hunters, particularly baby boomers, are searching for land as they contemplate retirement in four or five years.

At issue is how much development the valley can absorb while still retaining its pastoral ambiance. Kathy Rinaldi, executive director of the Valley Advocates for Responsible Development, wants 50 per cent of land dedicated to open space. Even 25 per cent of New York City is in open space, she points out.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide warns its neighbor in Idaho to avoid what it calls the "region’s deadliest temptation: development that ruins a place beyond recognition." Driggs, it says, should not create a future in which it needs another Driggs to function.

Vail split on bear-proof containers

VAIL, Colo. — Last year Vail had thought it had figured out how to deal with bears. Several years before it had adopted a law that bans people from leaving their garbage out except for from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the days of pickup.

Beaver Creek had problems with bears, Aspen had tons of problems. But not Vail.

But this year has been Vail’s year for problems. Four bears have been captured after breaking into homes, and two have been killed.

In the wake of those deaths, Vail revised its law. Instead of issuing warning tickets to first-time violators of the dawn-to-dusk law, it fines people, and the fine is enough to sting.

But many people, including wildlife officials, think that is far from enough. They want to see wildlife-resistant trash containers required or, preferably, bear-proof containers. After all, bears have both great strength and cunning. They can, says state wildlife officer Bill Andree, chew through an 8-inch aspen log in 20 minutes. Wooden enclosures are clearly not enough.

Partly at issue is the cost of such containers, up to $500 per container. While Vail has many, many rich people, it also has many people who are struggling to get by.

Also at issue is the weight of metal-reinforced containers. The two local trash-hauling companies have said their equipment cannot handle so much weight, nor can their employees.

For now, the town council is split, 3 to 3, on whether to require bear-proof containers. Beaver Creek, which is exclusively affluent, already has. Aspen has also stepped up its requirements, and both are following the example of Snowmass Village.

Skier now past 1,000 days

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — The Associated Press reports that Rainer Hertrich has now surpassed 1,000 consecutive days of skiing. The event occurred on July 27 when he barreled down Timberline, the ski area on Oregon’s Mount Hood.

Hertrich, 45, works at Copper Mountain in winter, and in summer works at Mount Hood. He also skis in summer and shoulder seasons in South America.

He has already skied 34 million vertical feet. But the Associated Press points out that even on an average day he skied 33,000 vertical feet. By comparison, the elevation of Mount Everest is 29,035 feet.

Hertrich began his skiing endeavor in 2003 after discovering an elite club at Jackson Hole for those who had skied 6 million vertical feet in a year. To do that, he says, he must ski a lot. He is a free-heeled skier. The only time he seems to find skiing an imposition is when he is camping in a tent and it’s raining.

What to do with dead logs

FRISCO, Colo. — The dead trees killed by bark beetles in Colorado continue to be a problem, not an opportunity. A case in point is cited by the Summit Daily News, which explains that the Frisco town government cut down 6,000 trees located along Dillon Reservoir. What to do with them?

It took 36 truckloads to haul the logs to a sawmill in Montrose, some 240 miles away. When all this was said and done, the logging company paid the town $3,500, far less than the cost of transportation.

With up to 95 per cent of the lodgepole pine in Summit County expected to die before this epidemic ends, disposal of the trees is considered a major problem. While some logs have been made into chips, for use as a base on trails, much woody debris remains.

Summit County officials, however, are working on plans for a potential biomass burner at Frisco, which would convert wood into electricity that could be used to heat county and other buildings.

Bark beetle crosses Divide

NEDERLAND, Colo. — While communities along Interstate 70 and Highway 40 in northwest Colorado deal with the bark beetle in full epidemic, a few people on the east side of the Continental Divide in Colorado are beginning to sound the alarm.

In Nederland, a town located about 30 miles west of Boulder, town officials have been talking about the arrival of bark beetles, reports the Mountain Ear. Some of Colorado’s hardest-hit areas are allocated across the Continental Divide, in the Winter Park-Granby area.

Some trees have been killed by the beetles near the Eldora ski area, located near Nederland. Other beetle-killed trees have been noticed at the east end of the Moffat Tunnel, a railroad tunnel that flushes out at Winter Park.

The Colorado State Forest Service is urging aggressive efforts, both on private land and on public lands. Allen Owen, a state forester, says more clear-cutting and thinning 20 years ago would have prevented the problem now.

Christine Walsh, a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, predicts the beetles will be in epidemic stage within two years.

Dead trees removed

VAIL, Colo. —Chain saws and other cutting devices are at work in the forests along Interstate 70 in the Vail-Avon area. The Forest Service recently approved removal of lodgepole pine that have been killed or infested by bark beetles on 21 acres of land. Work is contemplated on 3,000 acres in what is called the Vail Valley Forest Health Project.

Bark beetle epidemic slowing

KETCHUM, Idaho — The bark beetle epidemic in the Sawtooth Valley north of Ketchum is slowing, as most of the susceptible trees have already died. The last pine beetle epidemic there occurred almost 100 years ago. The current epidemic has lasted eight years, killing about 100 million trees. Drought is credited with making the trees more vulnerable, says the Idaho Mountain Express.

Preserving pastoral mesas key

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Ron Allred, who co-owned the Telluride ski area from 1979 to 2001, argues that one of the key issues confronting surrounding San Miguel County is whether the county commissioners will resist efforts to subdivide rural areas. The mesas around Telluride and Mountain Village, the twin towns next to the ski area, should remain in 35-acre ranchettes, he insists.

"When you visit most of the great mountain resort communities in the world, the single biggest negative that stands out is the proliferation of urbanization," he writes in a letter published in The Telluride Watch. "It’s a function of each resort’s success that lays the groundwork for the demise of their own desirability."

Telluride and Mountain Village together have enough density to achieve the critical mass for a resort to operate, he says. Rural should stay rural, he insists.

Park City asking for more open space

PARK CITY, Utah — Preservation of open space continues to be at the forefront in Park City. Town officials are asking voters to approval $20 million in bonds for open space.

Past bond issues have been approved by wide margins. A 1998 ballot issue was approved by 78 per cent of voters in Park City, and a 2002 proposal was approved by 83 per cent. The two bond issues together yielded $20 million, which has been used to secure deed restrictions on more than 4,000 acres.

Paepcke name remains

ASPEN, Colo. — An effort to formally name an auditorium in Aspen that ran afoul of protective local sensibilities has been withdrawn.

The Aspen Institute had wanted to name an auditorium after part-time Aspenites Stewart and Lynda Resnick. The Resnicks, who own the Franklin Mint, the maker of commemorative coins and medallions, had agreed to donate $4 million toward updating the auditorium, which is in one of the primary locations for Aspen think-tank-type sessions such as the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this summer that drew everybody from Hillary Clinton to Colin Powell.

For many years, the auditorium has informally but almost universally been called the Paepcke Auditorium, in honor of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, key figures in Aspen’s post-World War II renaissance.

The Aspen Times interviewed Lynda Resnick, who said she felt "a little bit bruised" after the controversy. "We have never had such vitriolic things said about us," she said.

Walter Isaacson, the director of the Aspen Institute, apologized to the Resnicks for recommending the "flawed plan." Other funding sources – presumably without direct naming rights – will be solicited, he said.

Corn worth bragging about

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — What’s next, peaches? The gardening columnist for the Jackson Hole News & Guide says that some gardeners there are producing crops of corn worth bragging about. The suggestion is that kernels planted in decades past was proof of hope springing eternal, but little more.

But gardening columnist Marilyn Quinn says this summer in particular has been a scorcher, although she cites no corroborating evidence.

But even if summer is getting hotter, as she believes, Jackson Hole is still in the mountains. She does advise short-cuts for corn growers: a variety of corn that matures in 70 days, but also "sets" of already-started plants.