Truckee bans real estate offices

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The proliferation of real estate and other offices continues to be a concern in mountain towns of the West. Truckee, on the crest of the Sierra Nevada, is the latest to take action with an emergency ordinance that bans any new businesses except retail, restaurants and bars from ground-floor units in a district called Commercial Row.

Elsewhere in the resort West, similar regulations earlier this year were enacted – and then suspended – by Crested Butte. Telluride this week was scheduled to discuss such zoning. And Nevada City, Calif., a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, recently adopted similar regulations for its historic downtown area. In Nevada City, however, the new law allows offices to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

The move in Truckee, reports theSierra Sun, was instigated by the Downtown Merchants Association. “Offices on the ground floor can erode the commercial viability of downtown; that’s why malls never have offices; just businesses,” explained Stefanie Olivieri, the association’s president.

Real estate agents contested that premise. “Real estate offices generate foot traffic,” said John Falk, representing the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors. “People do browse the listings in the real estate windows.” He called the zoning “backdoor rent control,” because offices were driving up rent in the district.

Among other resort towns, Vail adopted similar zoning in 1973, and Aspen did so in 2004. In both cases, existing uses were allowed to continue.

One of the arguments against such zoning districts is that it restricts the free market. Over time, say opponents, the market will balance out uses. Evidence from Park City suggests that argument is correct.

Park City considered such regulations in 2002 and again earlier this year. This year’s study found that space in the city’s main business district, which in 2002 had been 9 percent, had declined to 7 percent. Other general office uses remained static at 2 percent.

Ironically, Park City’s business district had a large vacancy rate in 2002, the year it hosted the Winter Olympics. Those vacancies have largely been replaced by retail businesses.


Ultimate trophy home up for sale

ASPEN – A home on the outskirts of Aspen is so big that it needs it own sewage-treatment plant. The 56,000-square-foot home belongs to Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States. And it is now on the sales block for the princely sum of $135 million.

Al Lewis, a business columnist forThe Denver Post, snagged a tour of the home and was awed, he reported, the way he would feel after seeing a fine work of art. It has 15 bedrooms, and not one slacker among the bunch: walk-in closets and massive bathrooms, plus fireplaces, sitting areas and patios. The house has 27 bathrooms altogether.

All of this takes 16 permanent employees, 50 when the prince and his entourage arrive. The house is larger than the White House, and probably fancier too. Since its construction in 1991, Pitkin County has imposed a cap on homes of 15,000 square feet, and has also taken steps to limit energy consumption of such beasts.

The offering of the property was announced in July, and it is getting inquiries from buyers who can afford it. The parting shot in the story is that even at $135 million, the house may well be underpriced. It exceeds the price tag of $125 on the Floridian house belonging to Donald Trump and the $100 million tag on a Lake Tahoe home.


Jackson Hole starts getting swanky

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Volume is down but prices are up through September in the Jackson Hole real estate market, producing a market that is within 2 percent of last year’s record pace.

The market trends are familiar. The most activity is in the high end, where the number of transactions of properties valued at $2 million-plus has increased 23 percent, according to a report by Jackson Hole Real Estate & Appraisal. In fact, these higher-end properties accounted for half of all sales volume in the first nine months of the year.

Something that longtime real-estate broker Bob Graham calls the “herding mentality” may be the driving force behind the trend. “People of wealth like to be where there are other people with wealth,” he told theJackson Hole News & Guide. “They attract each other.”

Graham said he expects no threat to this waxing bubble in the immediate future.

But the flip side of this market, says study author David Viehman, is that “there are just no cheap condos anymore.”

For proof, the newspaper cited one woman who bought a 450-square-foot condominium just two years ago for $280,000. She looked to sell this year, setting an aggressive price. But instead of a month, it went under contract in three days. She got $380,000.

This increasingly rich soup of Jackson Hole is causing the middle class to relocate west of Teton Pass, in and near the communities of Alta, Driggs and Victor, causing a building boom in those bedroom communities. In time, the existing shortage of skilled workers in Jackson Hole is expected to sharpen as opportunities become available in these bedroom communities.


Jackson woman skis down Everest

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. –Kit DesLauriers, of Jackson Hole, has become the first woman to ski off the summit of Mount Everest. In doing so, she also became the first person to ski from the summit of the highest peak of all seven continents.

The only footnote to this superlative regards Australia. Some mountaineers consider Carstensz Pyramid, located in Indonesia, to be the highest peak on the Australian continent, and there was no immediate proof that she had skied that.

The second potential footnote is that she did not ski 2,500 of the 8,500 feet of the normally skiable portion of Everest because of avalanche and other dangerous conditions.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide, relaying a National Public Radio report, tells of a harrowing if successful trip. The cold was so intense in climbing near the summit that DesLauriers was forced to wear goggles in the dark, to prevent her eyeballs from freezing.

After skiing off the summit, DesLauriers and her husband, Rob, and another Jackson Hole climber, Jimmy Chi, were forced to belay down the Hillary Step. Soon after, their oxygen gave out. There was more danger yet on the Lhotse Face, where blue ice is found at an angle of 45 degrees.


Fraser clings to its chilly reputation

FRASER – Fraser has a new logo, but will continue promoting its old reputation as a darned cold place.

The old logo from the 1980s showed a horse-drawn wagon carrying logs, reflecting the community’s foundation in logging. The new logo instead has an image of stately Byers Peak, the backdrop for the town, as well as the Fraser River.

But “Icebox of the Nation,” the town’s long-standing slogan, will continue to be found on the new logo. Fraser is located adjacent to Winter Park in a valley of about 9,000 feet that traps cold air.

Town officials who found recruitment of staff difficult because of the town’s reputation for chill had wanted to scrap the slogan, as had certain real estate promoters. But Jeff Durbin, the town manager, said community sentiment was strong and deep, and so the slogan remains.

The new logo also has trees and a handful of what are called kee birds, reported theWinter Park Manifest. As in “Kee-rist, it’s cold,” explained graphic artist Eric Van Herwaarden.


Greg LeMond enters legal battle

BIG SKY, Mont. – There’s trouble, or at least a lawsuit, in the paradise known as the Yellowstone Club. There, former Tour de France champion Greg LeMond is claiming that the developer of the private ski resort has cheated him out of millions of dollars. LeMond, 45, was an early investor in two limited liability companies that control the Yellowstone Club.

The mastermind behind the Yellowstone Club, rags-to-riches timber baron Tim Blixseth, 56, claims that LeMond is trying to profit from Blixseth’s hard work. “He’s an aging athlete whose income-producing ability has been usurped by Lance Armstrong,” Blixseth told Bloomberg.

Bloomberg notes that Blixseth is going global with a new project called Yellowstone Club World, one of about 25 so-called destination clubs that have sprung up in the past five years to serve the wealthy as they become even more wealthy. For example, to get into the Yellowstone Club World will require $3 million plus annual dues of $37,500.

– compiled by Allen Best

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