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
Hotels See Record Occupancy in September
Aspen hotel occupancy in September was the highest in at least 10 years, with weekends just as busy as any during winter and summer peak seasons, according a Stay Aspen Snowmass report.
Paid occupancy for the month was 64.1 percent in Aspen, up from last year’s 57.1 percent, according to the data, which aggregates numbers from most local lodges. Average daily rate was up to $272 from $253 last year. Snowmass saw 47.8 percent paid occupancy in September, up from 45.5 percent last year.
The month capped off a busy summer, with record setting occupancies — at least for the past 10 years, since detailed records have been kept — in June, July and August of 65, 83 and 75 percent, respectively.
City Looks to Decrease Lodge Parking Pass Use
The city of Aspen is considering hiking the deeply discounted fee it charges lodging guests to park on public streets, while launching a crackdown on hotels that distribute the passes before filling up their own underground parking garages, the Aspen Daily News reported.
Currently, tourists staying in local lodges pay just $3 for an on-street residential zone parking permit that is good for up to seven days. The parking department is considering raising that fee to $10, while potentially shortening the number of days the pass is good. Others pay $8 per day for a pass to park in residential zones, while parking meters in the downtown core charge $21 for four hours during high season, or $14 in the off-seasons. The city’s Rio Grande parking garage costs $5 per day for those who purchase a 10-day punch pass.
The lodge-guest passes have become an issue as the city seeks to reduce congestion and free up parking spaces. City officials suggest that some lodges steer their guests toward the cheaper passes rather than have them pay higher rates for underground parking.
Community Development Dept. Proposes More Local-Friendly Business
Specific policy proposals coming out of the city’s development moratorium are designed to promote local-friendly commercial space while banning free market residential units throughout Aspen’s commercial zone districts, the Aspen Daily News reported.
Aspen City Council will review a policy resolution in October that outlines code changes resulting from seven months of study. The council imposed a moratorium on new land use applications for commercial areas encompassing the downtown core and immediately surrounding neighborhoods, North Mill Street and Main Street, in March that is set to end by Feb. 28, hoping to straighten out codes that may conflict with community sentiment.
Policy direction from council over the ensuing months has been to eliminate new free market residential units as an allowed use throughout Aspen’s commercial zones — they have been banned in the downtown core since 2012 — cap heights at 28 feet and require developers to replace second-tier commercial space in new projects. The city may also increase affordable housing requirements for new commercial space, but could lower that requirement back to existing levels for projects that meet certain design and use-mix goals.
City Budget Includes Several Capital Projects
Of the total $117 million in proposed spending next year for the city of Aspen, $44 million is for capital projects, supported by $35 million in new debt, the Aspen Daily News reported. Most of that is driven by construction costs on the new Aspen Police Department headquarters and new city offices located on Galena Plaza. Total budget appropriations for 2016 are $93 million.
Total revenues, including the debt proceeds for capital projects, are projected at $160 million. While sales taxes are currently up 5 percent year to date over 2015, 2017’s forecasted increase is being held at 3 percent.
Snowmass Village Confirms Budget
The town of Snowmass Village is proposing a budget just shy of $32 million in expenditures for 2017, including some expenses directly related to the Base Village project that is under contract to a partnership led by Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Daily News reported.
The 2016 RETT fund is expected to easily surpass its $2.2 million forecast given the pending Base Village sale between Related subsidiary Snowmass Land Company LLC to SkiCo and East West Partners/KSL Capital, which is anticipated in December. Year-to-date RETT collections are currently at $2.19 million. In 2017, the real estate transfer tax projections are expected to increase approximately 10 percent over this year’s budget and 2016 actuals.
To handle the increased workload due to a construction restart, the 2017 budget anticipates hiring a new building inspector for the town. Personnel costs among the town employees are at 44 percent of the budget. That includes an 8 percent rise in health care costs and 4 percent performance/merit pool increases.
No More Dogs During Ski Hours
Among new policies announced for the winter, Aspen Skiing Co. said dogs will no longer be allowed to uphill with their owners on Snowmass Ski Area during lift-operation hours. SkiCo had allowed dogs on the designated uphill route on Fanny Hill even when the ski area was open for business, but that will be discontinued beginning this ski season. Man’s best friend will still be allowed on the mountain when the lifts are not running.
The designated uphill route on Fanny Hill was the only place dogs were allowed across the four ski resorts during lift-operation hours. Uphillers are welcome to ascend Snowmass, Buttermilk and to mid-mountain on Aspen Highlands during ski area operations if they follow a designated route and stay to the side of the run. There is no uphilling allowed on Aspen Mountain during the ski day.
Brewpub and Restaurant Coming to Willits
Basalt’s Willits Town Center is getting a restaurant and brewery this coming spring, the Aspen Times reported. Mezzaluna, one of the longest-serving restaurants in Aspen, will open a second location at Willits. Capitol Creek Brewery will brew its own handcrafted ales on site and operate a restaurant. Both restaurants will open in a building currently under construction on the southern side of Willits Town Center.
Two new retail stores will also join the mix. Soak, a sister store of Crystal River Spas, will open prior to Thanksgiving in the first floor of the building where Valley View Hospital’s offices are located. In addition, Holly and David Willson of Aspen will open Hollyann, a home, decor and fashion store.
Carbondale Set to Tap into Next Year’s Reserves, Already
Carbondale’s five-year capital improvements plan lists dozens of projects, but most of them are pushed into later years, the Glenwood Post Independent reported. For next year, the town is already tapping $500,000 in reserves just to pay for basic infrastructure maintenance.
The town board also must find money for any public safety improvements identified in recent discussions prompted by assaults on two women. Trustees also are acutely aware that a proposed tax for capital improvements was rejected in the April city election.
The 2017 proposed budget anticipates pulling about $500,000 from reserves, which is also about the same amount proposed to be spent from the capital improvements fund on transportation and parks. About $482,000 is slated for transportation spending, with only about $45,000 allocated for parks and open spaces next year. But most of the capital improvements budget for 2017 is covering only annual street and sidewalk maintenance. Nearly all of Carbondale’s projects to expand infrastructure will have to wait.
Retail Sales Strong for 30th Month Straight
Retail sales in Glenwood Springs continued on record pace through August, continuing an upward year-over-year trend that has now spanned more than 30 straight months, the Glenwood Post Independent reported, based on the city’s latest monthly sales tax report. Retail sales were up 4.1 percent over August 2015.
For the year to date, sales are trending 5.1 percent ahead of 2015, which ended up being a record year in terms of total sales tax receipts for the city. Through eight months, the city has collected $11.3 million on roughly $306.7 million in retail sales, based on the city’s total sales tax rate of 3.7 percent.
For all of 2015, Glenwood Springs collected $16.8 million on $455 million in sales, eclipsing the previous record year of 2008 just before the nationwide Great Recession hit.
Officials Split on Fare-Free WE-Cycle Service
A combined board of upper valley elected officials declined to support a no-fare model for the bike sharing system WE-cycle for residents and workers in Pitkin County, but it did grant $100,000 to support the nonprofit’s 2017 operating budget, the Aspen Daily News reported.
WE-cycle, which is entering its fifth season next summer, had asked the Elected Officials Transportation Committee for a $175,000 grant, $75,000 of which would have subsidized free season passes for anyone living or working in Pitkin County. Official said that the ability to use bike sharing on either end of a RFTA trip makes taking the bus more attractive. WE-cycle cites many of its stations near RFTA stops, and RFTA zone passes can also be used to check out bikes.
The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of Aspen City Council, Pitkin County commissioners and the Snowmass Village Town Council, was split on the request, with some members arguing that the fare-free experiment was worthy of support and could likely lead to more people using transit. Other members, however, expressed uncertainty for how much value residents of Snowmass, which does not have a WE-cycle network, would get out of the deal, while others were concerned about setting a precedent that would require long-term ongoing funding from EOTC to continue the free service.