Democrats triumph through West

Democrats made numerous inroads into the West’s resort valleys last week. Election results demonstrated growing dissatisfaction by voters with rapid population growth and distended economies that increasingly make mountain valleys unaffordable to lower and even middle-income workers.

In Eagle County, where Vail is located, Democratic candidate Sara Fisher was elected, joining two other Democrats who have been aggressively addressing impacts of rapid population growth. It was the first time that Democrats owned the courthouse since the mid-1950s.

In Jackson Hole, two of three candidates elected to the Teton County Commission are Democrats. One of them, Ben Ellis, 39, has a doctorate in natural resource economics and advocates for Teton County to become carbon-neutral within four years.

In Idaho’s Blaine County, where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, the two Democratic candidates for commissioner both won by landslides of 60 percent. One of the losing candidates, Mickey Garcia, was philosophical but sour. “One thing about liberal Democrats who come up here is they become ‘environmentalists’ after they buy their house,” he told theIdaho Mountain Express. “They’re phonies. They just use it as an excuse (to close the door on future development).”

Democrats also registered a lopsided win in Routt County, where Steamboat Springs is located, and a narrow one in Gunnison County, home of Crested Butte. In San Miguel County, home to Telluride, the Democratic candidate, conservation group director Joan May, had no opposition. No Republican appeared in Colorado’s Summit County to challenge the two-year incumbent, Bob French, 75, who turned back the challenge of a Green Party candidate.

The election looked green in other ways as well. In Carbondale, voters approved taking advantage of new federal tax incentives to pledge $1.8 million toward construction of solar collectors that will yield 250 kilowatts of power, enough electricity to meet the needs of about 53 customers per year.

Open space also remained popular. Voters in Basalt approved a new tax for open space preservation. In Pitkin County, they approved $20 million for open space funding, the fourth appropriation approved. Park City voters also approved $20 million in bonds, on top of two $10 million bonds approved in recent years. Also approving $20 million of indebtedness was Telluride, which is seeking to condemn a 570-acre parcel called the Valley Floor to ensure no development occurs. The land is expected to ultimately cost the town $40 million to $80 million.


Telluride promised high-end hotel

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Mountain Village, the town located along the upper slopes of the Telluride ski area, has a swank hotel now waiting in the wings. The developer, Robert Levine, had promised a Ritz-Carlton or something similar as the operator, but that idea fell through, as did a proposal to have the hotel operated under the brand of St. Regis.

The town has approved an operator that purports to be the future name-brand for super-high-end hotel operations. The hotel, the first in North American for the new group, called West Paces Hotel Group, is likely to be called Capella Telluride.

The hotel operating company was founded in 2002 by Horst Shulze, former president and chief operating officer of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., along with other Ritz executives. They had noticed that the upper tier of Ritz customers was no longer satisfied with large hotels but still wanted the best services and broadest array of amenities.

A West Paces Hotel Group representative told town officials in Mountain Village that the Capella-branded hotels will be “six star,” meaning that customers will find them even better than those currently described as having five stars or diamonds. Philip Keb, the company’s executive vice president of development, predicted that the hotel group will be, within five years, the standard-bearer for upper-tier hotels.

All of this high-quality of service, of course, depends upon having employees, and that’s been an increasingly perplexing problem in the Telluride area. In Telluride, voters continue to insist that open space not be violated to have housing of any kind. A proposal to build employee housing down-valley along the San Miguel River was rejected for environmental and other reasons.

Mayor Davis Fansler warned of the problem, but company officials said they are aware of the challenge.


Redevelopment dominates Vail

VAIL – Cranes continue to tower over Vail, which is in the midst of at least $1 billion in redevelopment of base area lodging and commercial areas. But town officials have aggressively been seeking to spur more redevelopment, offering the LionsHead Parking Structure as the site.

The town hopes to get another hotel, more parking spaces, and also some conference space out of the deal. Town voters three years ago had authorized a lodging tax to pay for a conference center, but when projected operating costs escalated, they balked at taxpayer subsidies. In response, town officials then asked for proposals from developers.

Two developers remain as candidates for the new project. East West Partners, which is based locally, has been doing major projects from Denver to Truckee. New to the Vail scene as a developer is Open/Hillwood. The company is reported to be directed by Ross Perot Jr. Both Perot and his father, H. Ross Perot Sr., a presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996, have had homes in Vail for long periods.

The Vail Daily said both projects that are finalists would exceed $500 million in cost, and the two would add either 350 or 455 new parking spaces to the existing 1,150. East West already has an alliance with Hyatt on a project to the west, at the base of Beaver Creek, and it proposes a 150-room hotel called Hyatt on Vail Mountain. Room rates would average $275.

Perot’s company proposes 240 hotel rooms, to be operated by W (at a cost of $423 per night) and St. Regis ($383 per night).

Both proposals also call for a variety of timeshare, condos and shops, plus various wellness centers, recreation centers, a bus station, and conference space of some sort.

The timeline calls for construction in 2008, completion in 2010.

Child care challenges mountain towns

EAGLE COUNTY – Generation X families are notably underrepresented in the resort valleys of the West. Part of this is because the 44 million Gen Xers have been dwarfed by Baby Boomers, 78 million strong at their peak, and by the latest generation, variously called Generation Y or Echo Boomers, who are at about 72 million.

But for now, Gen Xers are the ones having babies – but they’re not doing it in the mountain valleys. Some evidence suggests they have found it too expensive, and so have veered toward more affordable urban areas.

One response has been a call for government-funded child-care programs to help ease the strain on families needing dual incomes. In Eagle County, which includes Vail but also some of the Aspen suburbs, voters struck down one such proposal that would have yielded $3 million annually to pay for early childhood services.

But the county government may venture into child care nonetheless. With income from both property and sales taxes, the county is relatively flush. County Commissioner Arn Menconi, a primary architect of the plan, believes money can be carved out to at least start such a program. Because voters also rejected a home-rule measure that would have increased costs by $380,000, the thinking is that money can now instead be earmarked for the program.

Winter temperatures on the rise

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – The Columbia River Basin, which includes Revelstoke, Kicking Horse and Panorama resort areas, has warmed 1.5 degrees Celsius during the past century, compared to the average global temperature increase of about 0.6 degrees Celsius, according to a new report.

The report, which was commissioned by the Columbia Basin Trust, found that the greatest increases in temperatures occurred during winter months, and particularly during nighttimes – as predicted by the theory of global warming.

“Summers are becoming a little warmer, but winters are becoming a lot warmer,” said the report. “In this sense, it could be said that the Basin has become less cold rather than warmer.”

Glaciers have diminished dramatically since 1985, by an average of 16 percent – but with far more loss of ice in individual areas.

“Whether you are involved in building a house, a new water system or constructing a new school or highway or considering a far-reaching change in land use, the possible implications of a different set of climate conditions in the future should be considered,” the report advised.


Co-housing planned in Truckee

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Work is under way to begin a co-housing project in Truckee, reports theSierra Sun. Co-housing is a cooperatively planned neighborhood of individually owned homes and communal spaces. At some co-housing projects, meals are periodically shared. Back yards and gardens always are.

“We have a mix of singles, parents with young children and parents with children who have moved away,” Rick Mockler, vice president of CoHousing Partners told theSierra Sun. “And there are all types of folks, including artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, a professor and retirees.”

In co-housing projects, homes tend to be smaller and more densely located. While most suburbs have densities of four to six units per acre, for example, the Truckee project is aiming at 8.5 units per acre. Home prices are projected to be from $300,000 to $600,000.


Crested Butte invaded by earwigs

CRESTED BUTTE – You have heard the old expression “April showers bring May flowers.” Well, summer and early autumn showers at Crested Butte have produced an abundant crop of earwigs that have invaded homes in search of warmth.

The pincered insects, which are a half-inch to an inch long, are essentially harmless, and in gardens can actually be beneficial, as they feast on aphids, reports theCrested Butte News. Once in the house, they seek out kitchens and bathrooms, because they are moist. Extension agents have a variety of methods for removing the creepy-crawlers.

–compiled by Allen Best

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