Sun Valley wrestles with housing

SUN VALLEY, Idaho - While Sun Valley is considering a law that would require developers to include deed-restricted affordable housing when they build projects, some City Council members worry about asking too much. The fear is that Sun Valley could be picking up the slack for down-valley communities.

While Sun Valley-Ketchum seems to be lagging far behind the growth-on-steroids economies of many Rocky Mountain ski towns, the need for affordable housing is becoming more evident. A 2002 survey found need for 665 deed-restricted housing units in the region, while housing advocates expect to deliver no more than 400 units in years ahead, if that, reports the Idaho Mountain Express. The region currently has virtually no deed-restricted affordable housing.

The situation is becoming worrisome enough that the Sun Valley Council actually imposed a moratorium on new projects while it considered affordable housing requirements. Mayor Jon Thorson urges the council not to worry too much about which other communities are not pulling their weight. He says keeping some workers in or near Sun Valley is imperative. "If you can't service the community, the community somewhere along the line is going to go downhill."

However, some on the council question the need. They suspect many workers would rather commute to more distant cities and towns, where they can get much more housing for their buck.

If this dialogue sounds familiar, it may be because all these same points and counterpoints were made in Vail and Aspen and some other faster-growing resort communities 10 and 20 years ago.

Cold could keep beetles in check

BANFF, Alberta - Those tracking pine beetles around Banff would love to see an old-fashioned cold snap in the next month or more. A week of 40-below temperatures would do fine, they say. That's the easiest way to curb the spread of bark beetles, which have been finding the warmer winters and aging trees in the Bow River Valley to their liking.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook explains that Alberta's problem with the spread of bark beetles is minor compared with that of British Columbia, where up to 9 million hectares of trees have been killed. While 90 percent of each year's brood of bark beetles typically die, that still leaves 10 new beetles from every adult when the insects are in their epidemic cycle.

Aspen records new retail record

ASPEN - One of Aspen's nicknames is Glamour Gulch. Maybe it should be called Big Bucks Basin.

The town last year recorded more than $400 million in retail sales, a new record. Overall, sales were up 9.2 percent, with only T-shirts and specialty retail items like luggage and antiques declining. Particularly impressive were sales during December, which were up 16 percent over the previous year.

But as much as this was a gangbuster year in Aspen, the buying power of the tax collections is actually less than what was being collected a decade ago. That's the same story across much of the ski towns of the West, where the economy has shifted from tourism to real estate. Second-home owners and the newly retired locals who make up a larger percentage of the real-estate owners in the ski towns don't spend as much money as tourists splurging on a week's vacation.

Land prices outpace real estate

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - The price of land has been appreciating rapidly in Steamboat Springs, with residential lot prices rising by about 20 percent in the last two years.

While all real estates prices have been rising in resorts across the West, land has been rising more rapidly. In 1996, for example, the land at one lot in Steamboat represented 26 percent of the total valuation of the property. By 2003, the value of the lot had more than doubled, but more important, the land itself represented 45 percent of the total, explains The Steamboat Pilot.

If Steamboat's progression follows the same track as more highly developed resort towns like Aspen and Vail, the market will soon reach the point that people will buy homes for the value of the land, scraping off existing homes to build more modern and usually larger homes.

Major facelift coming for ski-in hut

BERTHOUD PASS - The Grand Huts Association has a long ways to go in its bid to replace an old ski hut at Second Creek, near Berthoud Pass. The group has plans to build a new 20-person hut with a low ecological footprint, including a composting toilet that uses a pint of water per flush, passive solar, and efficient gas-log fireplaces. But to do all this will take some $480,000. So far, reports the Winter Park Manifest, the group has about $20,000.

Ski areas call for I-70 traffic fix

I-70 CORRIDOR, Colo. - No surprise here: The ski areas of Summit County and the Vail Valley want to see Interstate 70 widened, and sooner rather than later. A Colorado Ski Country USA representative told the Summit Daily News that a no-action approach is unacceptable. However, the ski areas have not agreed yet on what alternative they prefer as state and federal transportation officials consider the future of the highway. In the past, various ski area officials have been dismissive of mass transit as unworkable.

Aspen ski expansion takes heat

ASPEN - A star student in environmental affairs, the Aspen Skiing Co. has been getting red ink in response to its plan to make a so-called backcountry area within the Snowmass Ski Area more accessible.

Although relatively few people bothered to comment on the proposal now before the U.S. Forest Service, most who did urged the ski company to show restraint, reports The Aspen Times. Several want to see the ski area "surrender" any plans to erect a ski lift in the area.

Vail developer pitches "D" word

VAIL - "Developer" and "density" are dirty words in many mountain communities, but another D-word, downzone, is now being used by a prominent developer from Vail and Beaver Creek.

Harry Frampton, managing partner of East West Partners, says it's time to slow the growth in the Eagle Valley, where Vail is located. The population has been nearly doubling for every decade since Vail opened in 1962, and at the current pace is projected to hit 80,000 within a couple more decades.

"It makes me nervous - I'm not sure we've thought through the implications," Frampton told a recent gathering in Vail.

As the developer of homes for mostly the super-wealthy, particularly in Beaver Creek, Frampton's firm has helped cause Eagle County's growth-on-steroids population gains. But he points to Breckenridge, where his firm has also developed, as a place that got it right.

Breckenridge, he said, had a potential to grow to 50,000 but instead has targeted 25,000 to 27,000. "They did the unthinkable. They down-zoned. They purchased conservation easements and transferred some development rights to other towns," he said. "We need to learn from our friends in Breckenridge and go through this very messy and complicated process. We will be 100 times better off if we do."

Vail affordable housing fills up

VAIL - In the wake of 9/11, when construction of second-home mansions nearly ended and tourism slowed way down, a bevy of affordable housing sprouted in Vail and the Eagle Valley even as vacancy rates soared.

Amid all this, Vail noisily debated a giant, new, for-rent affordable housing project located prominently near the town's main roundabouts along I-70. Critics said it would sit empty, and others warned that the 142 units would become a seasonal housing ghetto.

Time will tell on the ghetto part, but the 142 units are definitely not sitting empty. Vacancy was at 97 percent in January.

Low attendance hits gay ski event

WHISTLER, B.C. - Despite the worst weather in 30 years, 2,500 people showed up for Altitude, the Whistler event that specifically caters to gay skiers. Although that number is down from last year, event organizer Lee Bergeron told Pique that it demonstrates the loyalty of the gay market. Bergeron continues to insist that Whistler can get up to 15,000 people at the event.

- compiled by Allen Best




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