City Looking to Streamline Approval Processes
Amid a slew of vacant buildings and stalled projects, Aspen City Council is trying to figure out ways to move them along through changes made in the CommDev department, the Aspen Daily News reported. There has been growing community disenchantment in recent years over the number of stalled construction projects blighting the commercial core, some of which is directed toward Mark Hunt’s M Development.
Some of the changes implemented include a shift to senior level plans examiners who will conduct final reviews on permits under preview rather than passing them to a plan’s examination manager; applications reviewed by contract examiners will no longer be reviewed by the city’s plans examination staff; and there will be an increase in monthly permit collaboration and prioritization. Staff has already started to “triage” the application queue for permits that could be rapidly reviewed and issues, essentially bumping them up.
Hall of Fame Inductees Announced
Tom and Jody Cardamone, Georgia Hanson and the late Walt Smith will be officially inducted and honored at the annual Aspen Hall of Fame banquet on April 15 at the Hotel Jerome, the Aspen Daily News reported. Like more than 100 inductees before them, they were chosen for the Hall of Fame because of their positive and lasting effects on Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. “This year’s inductees have educated us, entertained us and charmed us over the years, and they exemplify what the Aspen Hall of Fame is all about,” AHOF co-presidents Madeleine Osberger and Kim DeCarlo said in the release. “The community has benefited from their passion for the local environment, for embracing and promoting its rich mining, ranching and skiing history, and for entertaining us through the decades.”
Centennial Tenants Notified of Sharp Increase in Rent
Tenants at Centennial Aspen Apartments face a steep rent hike in 2023, well over the rate of inflation and possibly in violation of lease terms with residents, the Aspen Times reported.
The landlord, Birge & Held — a national private equity, real-estate investment, construction, and management firm with offices in Denver and Indianapolis — posted notices to apartment doors in December. The notices, dated Dec. 13, 2022, informed each unit of the impending rent increase, going into effect on Jan. 1.
In the notices, Birge & Held referenced an agreement with APCHA that justified the rent increase based on the All Urban Consumers Consumer Price Index for Denver. The increase varied by unit, but two leases showed a rent increase of approximately 17% and 30%. The Denver CPI for 2022 is 8.5%.
Also, according to the leases, Birge & Held is not permitted to increase rent before the initial lease contract term ends, except for any changes allowed by special provisions to the lease.
Neither lease had anything written in the special-provisions clause. And the rent increase occurred during the lease term for both leases. According to a tenant, all 148 units received a rent-increase notice, but only about 20 tenants came forward to the city.
Snowmass Tourism Hires New Group Sales Director
Snowmass Tourism announced the appointment of Drew Welsheimer as the organization’s new sales group sales director, the Aspen Times reported. Welsheimer comes to Snowmass Tourism from the Denver area, where he was most recently the director of business development at Atlantis Paradise Island. His career in hotel sales includes the complex director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Place/Hyatt House Denver Downtown, associate director of sales at Sheraton Denver Downtown, and senior sales manager at the W Fort Lauderdale.
Welsheimer’s role at Snowmass Tourism includes leading Snowmass Tourism’s Group Sales team to increase economic vitality within Snowmass Village. The role includes working closely with the lodging community to develop an integrated strategic sales plan. In addition, he will be responsible for establishing team and individual goals for the Snowmass Tourism Group Sales team and providing leadership within the Tourism office.
Council Clings to Hope for Childcare Center
The Basalt Town Council is reluctant to let go of the prospect of opening a child-care or youth center in favor of affordable-housing units in the long-awaited Stott’s Mill development, even as the town struggles to find a willing provider for the space, the Aspen Times reported. Council members, the Stott’s Mill developer, and local child-care/youth education experts recently discussed the future of the 4,000-square-foot space in the development.
The multi-building residential development received approval through Ordinance 20 in 2017, contingent upon the installment of a child-care center that would pay 80% of the market-rental rate or about $2,400 monthly. It also allowed the convergence of the space to two Category 2 deed-restricted housing units. But now, as the residential buildings are on track to be completed this year, the Basalt council has yet to attract anyone to offer child-care services due a lack of staff and the price of operation.
Mi Casita Space Coming Back to Life as La Raza
A team made up of leadership members from Aspen staples Mi Chola and The Red Onion plan to open La Raza, a traditional, family-friendly gathering place, in the former Mi Casita space this spring, the Aspen Daily News reported. The restaurant will bring all the fun and high spirits of Mi Chola downvalley, which co-owner Adam Malmgren said has been a hope of his for a while now.
Malmgren and Mi Chola’s Chef Rigo Vasquez will work with The Red Onion’s former part-owner Brad Smith and general manager Jordan White to bring La Raza to life.
With fresh Oaxacan and Guadalajaran flavors, Malmgren said that he hopes La Raza will be a home away from home for Carbondale locals. He noted there is no sit-down space for Mexican food in Carbondale currently, and this will fill a void.
Garfield County Communities May Get Another Shot at RFTA
RFTA’s board of directors appointed a subcommittee “to plan outreach to Garfield County communities regarding joining RFTA and/or forming a Garfield County Regional Transit Authority,” the Aspen Daily News reported. Voters in Silt, Rifle and Garfield County as a whole have rejected charging a sales tax to contribute to RFTA in past elections, but those were years ago.
RFTA officials say it is vital to beef up transit in western Garfield County because two recent origination and destination studies of traffic show roughly 50% of the morning rush hour traffic passing through Glenwood Springs to points south come from western Garfield County. RFTA currently operates limited bus service on the Grand Hogback route between Rifle and Glenwood Springs. For 2023, the cost is estimated at $3.8 million. Garfield County is contributing $550,000 and Rifle is contributing $20,000. Silt and Parachute are not contributing for the Grand Hogback service, but Parachute doesn’t receive RFTA service. The balance of approximately $2.78 million is being funded by RFTA. Elected officials and some residents of western Garfield County are wary of implementing a sales tax in their communities because they feel it just subsidizes upper Roaring Fork Valley interests and their import of workers who cannot afford to live in Pitkin County.
USFS Could Approve Redstone Trail
The U.S. Forest Service released a draft decision last month for approval of a pedestrian and biking trail from Redstone to the summit of McClure Pass, the Aspen Daily News reported.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams wrote in a decision notice that he is prepared to approve the proposal by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails for a 7-mile trail.
As proposed, the trail would run about 2 miles along the west side of Highway 133 from Redstone to Hayes Creek Falls, a popular tourist destination just off the highway. The trail would then follow a historic wagon road for about 1.5 miles through the Bear Creek area before rejoining the road corridor at Placita area for six-tenths of a mile. The new trail would follow the Old McClure Pass Roadbed for 2.2 miles before crossing under the highway at a new underpass and continuing 0.7 miles to the summit. A key condition imposed by the Forest Service is a seasonal closure on nearly 5 miles of the trail south of Hayes Creek Falls and below the underpass near the summit. That section would be closed to all uses from Dec. 1 through April 30 “to protect elk for winter range use.”
Report Details Explosive Short-Term Rental Rise
The number of traditional tourist accommodations in Aspen and Snowmass Village increased modestly between 2015 and 2022 while the number of rental-by-owner units exploded, according to an updated tourist accommodations inventory released and reported by the Aspen Daily News. There were 3,898 units in lodges, hotels, condominium properties, private-home and bed-and-breakfast accommodations in Aspen and Snowmass in 2015, compared to 3,948 units as of July 31, 2022. That is an increase of 50 units, or 1.2% over the seven years.
Meanwhile, properties advertised through Airbnb and Vrbo soared from 575 in Aspen and Snowmass in 2015 to 3,731 as of mid-2022. That is growth of 3,156 units — or 550%. The study found that 69% of the properties advertised for rent through Airbnb and Vrbo are traditional commercial units that also use the popular platforms to spur business.
2022 Almost Record Year for Commercial Flights
2022 was almost a record year for the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport as total passenger numbers trailed those achieved in pre-pandemic year 2019 by 2.3%, the Aspen Daily News reported.
Last year solidly took the runner-up position in the history of the Aspen airport, surpassing 2021’s numbers by nearly 22%. In all, 611,848 passengers arrived and departed on commercial flights at ASE in 2022. That compares with 626,124 in 2019.
$7.5 Million Grant Awarded for Brush Creek Park & Ride
The number of paved parking spots at the Brush Creek park-and-ride lot will double to approximately 400 this summer with the projected completion of a $7.5 million project being supported by federal and local money, the Aspen Times reported. Preliminary site work starts in April, after a yearlong delay to break ground. Two rounds of bidding produced three above-budget proposals for the project.
To lower the cost, the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, opted to eliminate the bathroom facility and traffic-flow improvements from the project plan. The city of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority lease the 27.2-acre site from the Colorado Department of Transportation. It provides free parking to visitors and commuters, and free RFTA bus rides to Snowmass Village and Aspen. The project is receiving $3,766,672 from the Federal Lands Access Program, or FLAP, and a matching amount approved in the EOTC’s 2023 budget.