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Mountain News: So goes Aspen, so goes your skitown?

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ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen usually is 10 to 20 years ahead of most other resorts in trends both benign and difficult. So it was with affordable housing.

The affordable-housing construction in Aspen began in the 1970s, and it continues even so. But there are new twists to the Aspen conversation. When will these new twists arrive at your ski towns?

City officials recently approved an 11-unit project at the base of Aspen Mountain, the first of three public-private partnerships for affordable housing to go before the city council this year. Roughly half of the 6,000 full-time residents now live in some form of deed-restricted housing.

Still, it hasn't been enough. The Aspen Daily News said that affordable housing remains "what pretty much everyone with a pulse considers to be the overriding social issue" in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.

One response, which is being promoted by a team that includes Bill Lamont, who was Denver's director of planning in the 1990s, is a valley-wide taxpayer-funded entity to deliver affordable housing.

"With the power and economy of a taxpayer-funded special district, we will have the ability to leverage US$10 million of cash into US$200 million of housing," Lamont has said. But several local jurisdictions have indicated they don't want to be part of the proposed taxing district. Many such housing districts already exist within the valley.

The needs analysis is modelled largely on one done in Colorado's Summit County and for its towns: Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about whether the city's older long-term locals might be nudged out of their deed-restricted housing to accommodate a new generation. Mick Ireland, a former mayor of Aspen as well as former newspaper reporter and bus driver, will have nothing of it.

He says city and county elected officials shouldn't even try to free up extra bedrooms by forcing retired, affordable-housing residents to "downsize" or leave.

"Those of us who bought homes signed off on deed restrictions that gave us permanent ownership, so long as we either worked after retirement or remained in the units for nine months of a year," said Ireland.

"That contract remains in effect and can't be unilaterally revoked, neither homeowner nor government has the power to change the deal."

But few of the affordable housing residents will be getting out of the workforce, even if they are hitting 65 or beyond, simply because they can't afford to. "Most jobs here don't pay enough to create a generous retirement. Social Security? Hah. The average monthly check is about $1,200, the maximum is $2,500. Try living here on $30,000 a year," wrote Ireland in his weekly column in the Aspen Daily News.

Can e-bikes help decongest the highway

JACKSON, Wyo. — Now come e-bikes and the question whether they can ease the congestion of cars found in ski towns like Jackson.

The specific question at hand is whether the e-bikes should be allowed on the local trails normally frequented by pedestrians and bicycle riders. Or should they instead be restricted to streets? Jackson town officials will soon be talking with their counterparts in Teton County, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

An important distinction, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, is 32 km/h. That's the maximum assisted speed when powered solely by the motor of a low-speed electric bike. However, there are some ways to use a larger motor, allowing an e-bike to go more than 48 km/h without pedalling.

Brian Schilling, coordinator for Teton County Pathways, told Jackson town officials recently that e-bikes have been called a game-changer. He sees great potential for their application in Jackson during warm months.

"It changes the way people get around town, especially during the busy summer months when they don't want to be sitting in traffic on Broadway," he said, referring to the street that is the main street in Jackson and the primary route for many thousands of travellers going to and from Yellowstone National Park.

Easing into paid parking

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte is planning to take a year to gather public feedback before moving ahead with paid parking in the town's interior.

The town has gone along with a committee's recommendation and has allocated US$45,000 for the year-long study and a community outreach effort.

"The committee feels parking in town is 'free and easy' and we can't build our way out of the problem," said Bob Nevins, town planner for Crested Butte, according to a story reported by the Crested Butte News. "I want to get people out of their cars," said Jackson Petito, a council member.

The plan calls for paid parking along Elk Avenue, the town's main street, and other adjoining areas. Residents will get permits. The start-up costs if the town decides to go forward will be US$220,000, or about the same price as paving a parking lot.

Two hotels getting refurbished, rebranded

VAIL, Colo. — Vail has two hotels that have been getting refreshed with a total of 401 hotel rooms out of commission.

The Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, a property that went up in the boom of the early 1980s, has been refurbished down to the bathroom sinks. It's now called Hotel Talisa. Hotel owners said the intent of the re-do is to move the property into the first tier of Vail hotels. What is required to achieve that first-tier rating has elevated over the years.

Across Interstate 70, an even older hotel, most recently bearing the brand name Holiday Inn, has been getting updated and will reopen this winter under the brand of Doubletree by Hilton.

Broadband alone doesn't bridge divide

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Broadband is reaching rural Colorado, including Steamboat Springs, giving local governments there the same sort of internet speeds and cost as is commonly found in densely populated cities.

But there's still tension between urban and rural Colorado, said the state's governor, John Hickenlooper.

Steamboat's US$2.2-million, fibre-optic trunk line, which is already providing substantial rate savings for the local hospital, municipal government, and other participating entities that banded together in an organization called Northwest Colorado Broadband, is to underwrite the venture. The effort was assisted by a US$748,000 state grant.

Tom Sullivan, the manager of Routt County, told Steamboat Today that the cost savings are substantial. Three years ago, the county was buying 10 megabytes of bandwidth per second for US$1,000 per month. Now, for the same price, it is getting 300 megabytes.

The next step is to create the so-called last-minute internet connections from the trunk line to homes, offices, and businesses.

In a conference last week, Hickenlooper was asked about Colorado's diversity, and he mentioned the state's subsidies for extension of broadband to rural areas in his answer. Colorado's tax base is in its cities, mostly along the Front Range, so the broadband subsidies are being provided with city money.

"But... it hasn't seemed to build a bridge between urban and rural Colorado," he said, adding that urban Colorado has a responsibility to people who grow food. "Our long-term sustainability is based on making sure we have a reliable source of food. If that whole world falls apart, we can support ourselves by the food and livestock we raise."

The response of extending broadband to rural Colorado has, in rural Colorado, been "lukewarm at best," said Hickenlooper. Instead, within a year, it was, "You're still taking our water.

"It is a divide that I cannot figure out."

The discontent of luxury

TELLURIDE, Colo. — A hip-hop artist named Sam Muzaliwa is leaving Telluride and heading to LA to continue his career.

The Telluride Daily Planet said the artist, known as Samweli, has released five albums but has been lax about marketing his most recent effort.

"The life here is a luxurious one, to say the least. We're truly blessed to be up here," he told the newspaper. "It's so easy to be content, but I've been feeling so discontented, because I'm not following my passion."

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