Chain Stores Banned in Aspen
Aspen City Council unanimously approved new regulations allowing government officials to block the opening of new chain stores in future development, the Aspen Daily News reported. The watered-down version of a proposal originally brought forward by a citizens group in November sends an important signal about the value Aspen places on uniqueness and small-town character, according to council.
The approved legislation requires a conditional use review before the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission for any proposed “formula retail” purveyor, defined as having 11 other stores in the United States with standardized characteristics, including product lines and trademarks. The P&Z would hold a hearing on whether any such potential business would fit into parameters, approved as part of the legislation, that speak to economic vitality and diversity, innovation and supporting the resort community. If the appointed volunteer board voted against a formula retail applicant, the decision could be appealed to city council.
The new policy framework, however, only applies to development that has yet to be proposed. All existing buildings, as well as some 21 that are still in the “pipeline” are exempt and can continue to rent to whatever chain stores they would like without review.
Gorsuch Haus Gets More Praise
The community offered Aspen City Council more than two hours of comment about the Gorsuch Haus project, and heard mostly praise for its new design, but also lingering concerns about the project’s scale, even in its recently reduced incarnation, the Aspen Daily News reported. No decision was reached, and the discussion has been tabled.
Retaining the South Aspen Street right-of-way to Lift 1A was also cited as a concern among some locals and adjacent neighbors. But the design changes that have been made in the wake of a Feb. 13 review and public hearing, which include lopping off 18,000 square feet from the overall massing, and dividing the hotel and ancillary services into two separate structures, was heralded by elected officials and many members of the public. Room sizes will also drop by about 100 square feet each, and two of the six free-market units have been dropped from the project. Now, the total massing stands at 84,500 square feet, which is down from 103,500 square feet.
Trio of Construction Projects Start this Spring
Snowmass is officially under construction this spring, as crews are breaking ground on a trio of separate projects, the Aspen Daily News reported. Those include a new wastewater treatment plant, a replacement of the Snowmass/Wildcat Fire Protection District firehouse and a restart of the long-stalled Base Village project highlighted by a Limelight hotel — all of which are supposed to start by late April.
Construction at the fire station is estimated to last 18 months, the wastewater treatment plant should be done by fall 2018 and the Limelight project should be done by late 2018, officials say. The fire station is a replacement project for the existing 40-year-old structure, while the other two are new developments.
Snowmass’ Summer Plans Receive Initial Federal Approval
An $8.3 million Snowmass Ski Area summer activities program, highlighted by a mountain coaster, zipline canopy tour and new hiking and mountain biking trails, would be allowed as part of a preferred alternative, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the Aspen Daily News reported.
The agency issued its draft decision and final environmental impact statement about the summer projects. The Forest Service will issue a final record of decision by late spring. If approved, it would allow Aspen Skiing Co., operator of Snowmass Ski Area, to begin construction of the facilities by June and have the activities ready for operation by 2018. The budget for the projects, from planning to implementation, was initially set in the $8.3 million range.
Roaring Fork Conservancy River Center Approved
Basalt-based nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy will join the Rocky Mountain Institute as a neighbor on Two Rivers Road in Basalt, after town council approved its construction in March, the Aspen Daily News reported. The $3.3 million project will be located on a 16,000-square-foot parcel next to RMI.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. It oversees numerous programs including monitoring water quality, preserving riparian habitat and working to keep water from being diverted from the Fryingpan, Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers. The property upon which the River Center will be constructed was purchased in 2005 by the RFC for $400,000 from the town of Basalt. Last year, the town re-acquired the property from RFC for that same amount. RFC has enough cash on hand to begin the project, and officials hope to be finished by spring 2018.
Lodging Tax Hits $100,000 for First Time Ever
Carbondale’s dedicated lodging tax hit $100,000 for the first time in 2016, fueled in part by an increase in the number of vacation rental properties, the town-owned Gateway RV Park and a wide-ranging tourism promotion campaign, the Sopris Sun reported.
The release noted that Carbondale voters approved a 2 percent tax on lodging facilities in 2003, which was introduced in 2004. The Town of Carbondale collects the tax from 45 properties, and contracts with the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce primarily for tourism marketing. Lodging includes hotels, motels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, and rental properties, like VRBO.
Currently 39 vacation rental properties (such as Airbnb or VRBO) assess the lodging tax, as well as five hotels/B&Bs/inns, and the Gateway RV Park. Carbondale’s two major lodges, Days Inn and Country Inn & Suites, are both located in the Cowan Center and were constructed in the 1990s. Carbondale’s lodging options have increased 109 percent since 2011.
New Glenwood Market in Sayre Park During Bridge Construction
Construction of the new bridge connecting Glenwood Springs over the Colorado River means the city’s regular farmers’ market along the riverbank won’t take place this summer, but a new farmers market is filling the gap at the same times on Tuesdays, the Glenwood Post Independent reported.
Instead of being in downtown, Glenwood Market, which will be run by Roaring Fork Events under contract with the city, will be in Sayre Park. The event will still run from 4-8 p.m. on Tuesdays starting in June. Running from June 13 to Sept. 5, the Glenwood Market will also be about three weeks shorter than the Downtown Market operated. This new market is not in any way associated with nor is it replacing the Downtown Market, and the Downtown Market will be back next summer.
County Unemployment Rate Below National Average
The unemployment rate in the five-county area served by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments was below both the state and national averages in December 2016 compared to the previous December, the Aspen Daily News reported. Unemployment rates for Pitkin, Eagle, Summit, Grand and Jackson counties were at a mere 2 percent in December 2016. In December 2015, the regional unemployment rate was 2.5 percent.
Pitkin County’s labor force grew by only about 70 workers during that time, while Eagle County’s labor force increased by 2 percent — from 34,634 to 35,206 — in December 2016 compared to December 2015.
Trail Addition to Complete Hummingbird in Hunter Creek Valley
Another single-track trail segment will be added to the Smuggler-Hunter Creek network this summer and enhance its allure, the Aspen Times reported. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails revealed it will add the Upper Hummingbird Trail this year. The 0.55-mile single-track will extend the lower Hummingbird Trail, a 1.7-mile segment that opened in July 2015 to wide acclaim among mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers.
Lower Hummingbird switchbacks on a hillside on the north side of Hunter Creek Valley and ends at the Hunter Creek Toll near the start of the Lower Plunge. Upper Hummingbird will pick up from that point, traverse the hillside, make some major switchbacks and end up where the Hunter Creek toll road comes to a fork, the left branch climbing to Four Corners and the right fork climbing into Van Horn Park. The upper trailhead will be very close to the Hummingbird Lode, which was purchased in the 1990s to prevent construction of a home on a private parcel surrounding by national forest.
Conundrum Hot Springs Likely to Use Permit System by 2018
Conundrum Hot Springs will be the first place in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness where a permit system will be implemented to manage overnight camping, U.S. Forest Service officials announced, the Aspen Times reported. The permit system will likely be ready to roll out in 2018 or 2019.
A proposed Overnight Visitors Use Management Plan is also being studied as a tool to ease resource damage at popular spots along the Four Pass Loop as well as Capitol Lake. But Conundrum Hot Springs, which attracts up to 300 backpackers on summer weekends, will be the guinea pig.
Beefed up management is needed because the number of visitors is disturbing wildlife and changing the landscape. Wilderness rangers are reporting issues with unburied human waste, illegal campfires, denuding of vegetation and trash. There has also been a loss of the wilderness feel because of the high level of activity. About 20 wilderness areas nationwide have overnight use limits. Use has soared 285 percent in the most popular areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness between 2006 and 2015.