Telluride anguished over open space

TELLURIDE – Telluride is in the midst of an anguished community debate about the future of a large parcel of land at the town’s primary entrance known as the Valley Floor. That parcel of 500-plus acres is pastoral, a beautiful place of cows and, during late spring, dandelions glittering among deep green.

The land is also privately owned, and in a story line that began in the 1980s, the debate has been whether development will occur. Clearly a majority of town residents would prefer nothing happen, and with that as the guiding wish, the town embarked on condemnation of the land, to force the owner to sell.

That condemnation effort has had repercussions far beyond Telluride, being cited as a classic case of a government arrogantly using its power of condemnation. But, while Telluride has set aside a goodly amount of money for open space preservation, there are major doubts that the town can come up with the money to pay fair-market value for the land, let alone defend its actions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, as some have predicted will be necessary. Meanwhile, Telluride and nearby Mountain Village continue to have the typical problems of where people who aren’t worth a million dollars are going to live.

A court-ordered mediation yielded a proposed settlement that would leave much of the land vacant, but allow some development of both big homes but also affordable housing. The Town Council proposed the measure, and the school district and county commissioners have endorsed it.

The debate has had no end of impassioned voices. Among them is that of the actress Darryl Hannah, who owns a home near Telluride. She began visiting Telluride in the 1970s. Her father, a developer from Chicago, could have purchased and tried to turn the real estate, but chose not to, she reports. And the parcel is what keeps Telluride from being like other ski towns, a “mall with a mountain,” she says. “This mountain town ain’t sellin’ out.” she exhorts in a piece published inThe Telluride Watch.

Seth Cagin, publisher ofThe Watch, supports the compromise. “Can we afford to devote all of our resources to open space, even if it drives the cost of living here so high that only the ultra rich can afford to stay?” he asks.

Cagin also argues that the condemnation is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he imagines Telluride becoming a poster child for what he calls “out-of-control environmental fundamentalism.” The proposed settlement, he points out, would give the town 513 acres at no cost, giving the developers rights to build 22 homes clustered on 47 acres.

Aspen falls back in love with fur

ASPEN – In 1990, Aspen drew national attention when voters weighed a proposal to ban the sale of fur. Voters rejected the ban after an extended and sometimes frenzied debate about whether fur coats caused unnecessary cruelty to animals.

Today, there is little more than the occasional letter to the editor to hint at anything other than acceptance – or, at least, indifference – toward furs and their wearers, reportsThe Aspen Times.

“The town that once flirted with a ban on fur sales is draped in the luxurious outerwear,” the newspaper’s Janet Urquhart reports. “Fur sales are up dramatically and so is the number of stores that sells them. Minks and other fine furs proliferate on shoulders and in shop windows.”

While wearers proclaim the heating properties of fur, rivaled only by that of down, all sources suggest that it’s all about fashion. “It’s a fashion statement,” said Mark Goodman, a partner in Mark Richards Fine Outerwear. “We don’t carry any plain-Jane furs.” In other words, he added, it can’t be something that your mother wore.

Mickey Alpert, owner of Aspen Fur and Shearling, reports having moved to a store that is twice as large. “The grocery store sells more dead animals than we do,” he told Urquhart. “Fur is a farm-raised product, just like livestock.”

Prices of fur coats and other fur-adorned shoes and clothing available in Aspen range in price from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000.

Sun Valley lauded and then ripped

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – Among the 500 people paying tribute at a recent dinner to Earl and Carol Holding, owners of the Sun Valley Ski Resort since 1977, was none other than Vice

President Dick Cheney.

“Earl’s life is a testament to good citizenship,” Cheney said in a videotaped message. Giving similarly glowing remarks, but in the flesh, were former Utah Sen. Jack Garn and current Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

The couple got their start as owners of a fruit orchard near Salt Lake City, but they went on to amass a fortune as proprietors of the Little America and Grand America hotel chains as well as Sinclair Oil. In addition to Sun Valley, they own Utah’s Snowbasin, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics downhill races.

In an impromptu speech at the tribute, Earl Holding promised that ownership of the Sun Valley Resort would remain in the Holding family for the foreseeable future, including the lives of his children.

However, in a travel story published several days later,The Wall Street Journal was anything but glowing in its appraisal of the Sun Valley Lodge, the fabled hotel that has been host to movie stars and businessmen from the 1930s forward. It is also owned by the Holdings.

A writer for the newspaper’s Finnicky Traveler section snipped at what had once been “an outpost of luxury, glamour and impeccable service.” The writer was distinctly unimpressed.

“With bland, institutional décor, little atmosphere, and few amenities, the hotel appears to have more in common with the naval-convalescence hospital that it served as during World War II than the famed destination of its heyday,” wrote theJournal’s Laura Landro.

The Holdings plan to start work next year on a new 150-room, high-end hotel.

TDRs take root in Summit County

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – Like most former mining areas, Summit County’s mountainous backcountry is a quilt of private land intermixed with federal lands, mostly Forest Service. Officials several years ago launched a program to consolidate development, mostly in towns. The thinking is that more compact and dense development reduces environmental impacts and also costs to governments.

To encourage this shift, explains theSummit Daily News, property owners can transfer building rights. So far, it has resulted in 70 percent of the development potential in the Upper Blue River Valley’s backcountry either being extinguished or transferred.

The key to this transfer is a bank, although not of the conventional kind. Sellers can sell their development rights, and developers in urban areas can buy them. Essentially, 20 acres in the backcountry equals one development unit in an urbanized area.

The formula used for determining worth is based somewhat on transactions, with those backcountry parcels nearest towns having the highest potential market value, and hence the highest cost. The value of such a building right had been $34,000, but is being readjusted to $39,000.

Whistler gets 15 feet in January

WHISTLER, B.C. – Last year was a disaster for Whistler. A year ago, drenching rainstorms were eroding the snowpack. And although Whistler started this winter well, December again was problematic.

January was a different matter altogether.Pique reports that the Whistler and Blackcomb ski areas received 461 centimeters (15.1 feet) of snow during January, breaking the previous record of 459 centimeters set 14 years before.

Alas, if every dark cloud has a silver lining, the reverse is also the case. Removal crews have struggled to stay ahead of the snow. The bus agency in Whistler was sufficiently annoyed to publicly criticize road crews for failure to get sand spread in advance. Scott Pass, manager of Whistler Transit, also advised weekenders to be prepared: “Don’t come up here if you don’t have proper tires,” he said.

‘Colorado-style base’ lands in Tahoe

TRUCKEE/LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A Colorado-style base village is coming on line at California’s Northstar ski area.

The first phase of the project includes 72 condominiums, a large ice-skating rink and three buildings for shops like The North Face and Helly Hansen and restaurants like Earthly Delights and Euro Snaks. Some 70 percent of the retail spaces have been leased, reports theSierra Sun.

–compiled by Allen Best

Construction last fall was slowed by rains. A shortage of materials resulting from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina also caused delays. Building of the second phase, which will include two buildings of condominiums, is under way. Developer of the project is Colorado-based East West Partners.

Group pushes for Lake Tahoe clarity

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – An environmental lobbying group is calling for restricted development and air pollution in order to improve the clarity in Lake Tahoe. Historical accounts indicate the lake once had such clarity that objects more than 100 feet below the surface could be seen. Last year, scientists reported a clarity that allowed them to see only 74 feet.

The Environmental California Research and Policy Center issued a report that points the finger at air pollution. Studies have shown that more than half of the nitrogen that is fueling the algae growth in Lake Tahoe comes from air pollution. Other particles are also washed from the air during rain and snow storms.

The primary government body for devising and enforcing environmental measure is the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and it requires cleaner-burning wood stoves. The agency is also focusing on ways to get people out of cars and onto public transportation. But the environmental group wants to see stronger efforts, including even more restrictions on lake shore development. Defenders say that little development land remains, and that property owners must already follow strict rules that limit the impacts of their development.

California bans battery disposal

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Where do you put the double-A batteries from your digital camera when they’re out of juice? For most people, it’s straight to the trash.

But that is now an official no-no in Truckee and all other places in California. Effective Feb. 9, batteries as well as telephones, radios and microwave ovens must be disposed of as hazardous waste, which in fact they are. What these and other banned items have in common are components made of mercury and other heavy metals. Even sanitary landfills can rupture, with the toxins leaking into underground water supplies.

The Sierra Sun reports that local officials are talking about creating convenient drop-off places for batteries and other such items at local stores and other such collection areas. Other items banned from landfills include fluorescent lights and computer printers.

The new ban applies to small businesses and homes; the ban was first applied to large companies several years ago.

Vodka drink of choice at X Games

ASPEN – The X Games were, as expected, a bonanza for merchants and hoteliers in Aspen and nearby communities.

Total attendance was estimated at almost exactly the same as last year, 70,000, reportsThe Aspen Times. Hotel rooms were booked months in advance, bars had lines out their doors, and merchants catering to the younger crowd reported good sales. For whatever reason, customers this year wanted vodka, reported one bar manager, compared to Jagermeister and Bud Light in other years.

Not everybody was totally enamored. One visitor, who later wrote a column for theWinter Park Manifest, reported excitement that at times spilled into self-centered rudeness.

Heliskiing lodge goes with microhydro

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – A lodge used as a base for heliskiing in the Selkirk Mountains near Revelstoke is now being powered mostly by a small hydroelectric plant, called a microhydro. The microhydro eliminates the need to burn large quantities of diesel and propane, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere by 226 tons annually.

The Revelstoke Times Review reports that the dam, called a weir, measures 16 feet across. Site of the dam was chosen carefully so as to avoid separating the creek’s resident population of bull trout and their food source of invertebrates.

Total cost of the project has been $500,000, but given the reduction in cost of other fuels, the payback is expected within seven years.

–compiled by Allen Best


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows