BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - Breckenridge walks a tight rope in how it deals with dispensaries of medical marijuana. Along with the majority of Coloradans, town residents voted several years ago to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. And, taking another step, they voted to legalize it within Breckenridge altogether.
Still, marijuana remains a touchy subject. Town officials do not allow dispensaries at all on ground-floor locations in the Main Street business district, where tourists congregate. Further, the council adopted a moratorium on new dispensaries in the same area.
As such, the case of a dispensary called Medicine Man posed significant questions of justice when its proprietor recently appeared before the town council. The Summit Daily News explains the business had been operating out of a second-story location on Main Street. Then, because other tenants of the building complained about the odors, the landowner did not renew the lease.
The business owner, Frank Torrealba, told council members that he found another Main Street location, one that would have the entire top level of a building, eliminating complaints of odors. Further, there's an off-street entrance and, much to the liking of at least some council members, he will have no outside sign.
"The signage piece is a big deal for me," said Councilman Eric Mamula, explaining his support for a variance to the town's moratorium. "That's the part that affects our guests."
The same night, the council passed a law prohibiting the smell of marijuana from being perceptible outside private homes where it is grown.
Banff considering money for art
BANFF, Alberta - Town officials in Banff are considering regulations that would mandate developers chip in for public art. "We believe there's significant value to public art," said Randall McKay, manager of planning and development.
The Rocky Mountain Outlook notes that requiring public art as part of development is common in many places in North America. For example, in Vancouver, developers of more than 100,000 square feet must contribute a fee per buildable foot to a public art process.
Guide sorry for spraying caged bear
JACKSON, Wyo. - A 26-year-old hunting, fishing and float-trip guide who admits he sprayed a caged bear with pepper spray rues the deed, blaming it on alcohol. "I think it was a cruel thing to do, your honor. It was one of the worst decisions I've ever made," said the guide, Tyler Steele.
Grand Teton National Park wildlife managers had captured the black bear in a culvert trap after it broke into the main lodge building of the Triangle X Ranch, where the guide worked. The guide said he was drunk and incited by his friends to spray the bear. The bear did nothing when he sprayed the pepper.
The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsaicin, a chemical derived from chilies and other plants in the Capsicum genus.
A thin line between peaceful and boring
BASALT, Colo. - Leaf-blowers seem to be the cause of the loudest complaints provoking Basalt's adoption of a noise ordinance.
The law limits most noisy activities, such as lawnmowers and power tools, to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., reports The Aspen Times . It allows some exceptions, such as for music on patio bars on Friday and Saturday nights.
But council members, while wanting greater tranquility, also have been warned by one of their own, Pete McBride, that they are in danger of being a "fuddy-duddy" town.
Gas bucks needed to keep ranches
GUNNISON, Colo. - Much has been made about the potential damages of drilling for natural gas. But a recent hearing in Gunnison County featured ranchers, who warned against adopting regulations that were too stringent.
The ranchers said that the income of natural gas drilling on their property provided them a badly needed financial cushion, reports the Crested Butte News . The ranchers were from the same county, but over Kebler Pass, in the Paonia area.
"We want to have a future as a family and keep these ranches in open space where wildlife is plentiful," said one speaker, Gary Volk, the patriarch of a ranch that has been in his family for 100 years.
"Now we have an income source that can help us maintain that into the next generation, and I encourage you to be careful about over-regulating this industry."
Plenty of broken pipes, but not one soiled book
FRASER, Colo. - You'd think that a public building in Fraser, which used to call itself the icebox of the nation, would be the last place for the water pipes to break because of cold weather.
But that's exactly what happened in the recent cold snap, when temperatures got to less than 40 below zero on two successive nights. The local library got thoroughly drenched and will be closed for a month while carpet is removed and other repairs are made.
Not one book was damaged, however, as the pipes burst during working hours, resulting in rapid response.
Libraries in nearby Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs also suffered damage from broken water pipes, as did dozens and dozens of homes.
One firm, Grand Lake Plumbing, alone fielded 80 to 90 calls, many to older and unattended homes. Many were from second homes.
The company encourages absent home owners to install freeze alarms, which remotely can warn their distant owners if temperatures drop too low, putting water systems at risk. The average repair bill, at least in the Grand Lake area, runs $6,000 to $8,000.
Efficient easier to sell than green
KETCHUM, Idaho - Ketchum and Blaine County are considering whether to elevate the requirements for buildings to ensure they use less energy and other resources.
Such regulations have tended to be controversial, because they usually raise building costs. But improved building techniques and designs lower utility costs.
Checking in at a few places with prior experience in such matters, the Idaho Mountain Express reports no clear consensus. One of the problems seems to be the word "green." Many contractors hear that and want nothing to do with it. And in Clark County, Wash., located north of Portland, that protest was enough to quash a mandatory code.
Aspen had the same problem, the chief building official there said, and so replaced "green" with "efficiency."
"How could they be against efficient buildings," asked Stephen Kanipe, the building official.
In Colorado, a building official in Longmont said elevated building requirements really shouldn't be controversial. "It's pretty easy stuff that should be done anyway, such as no leaks in ducts and no gaps in insulation," said Chris Allison.
Ketchum's Green Building Team leans toward recommendation that the city adopt the National Green Building Standard, which requires improved insulation and other building techniques, but does not require renewable energy, such as solar collectors.
"The goal is to take Ketchum from behind the curve to slightly ahead of the curve, but not so much ahead that we quash construction," he said.
Even in Aspen, recovery is cautious
ASPEN, Colo. - Mirroring reports from other mountain valleys and, indeed, much of the United States, The Aspen Times reports signs of an improved economy. But one architect said he refuses to string together "cautious" and "optimism" into the same sequence.
"We're cautious as hell," said John Cottle, a partner in Cottle Carr Yaw Architects, a firm with roots 40 years deep in the Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located. "It's still a very sober environment out there."
Construction remains down, of course, even if the sale of high-end homes began accelerating in 2010, particularly late in the year. Prices are down 30 to 50 percent from their pre-recession euphoria. As elsewhere, activity has picked up most quickly in Aspen itself, with less friskiness in outlying communities such as Basalt and Carbondale.
Tourism, of course, survived the recession much better. But even as occupancy rates pick up, lodging rates continue to decline. One firm that rents luxury condominiums in Aspen told the newspaper that occupancy levels have increased more than 10 percent this year, but the average daily room is down. "They know, like we do, that there's room at the inn," said Chuck Frias, co-owner of the firm, Frias Properties.
But as has been the case almost everywhere, December had a much greater bustle. Some of that bustle was in evident in the local buses, operated by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
While 2010 altogether had the fewest riders since 2004, December ridership was up substantially. "We appear to have reached the bottom and we've started to come back up," said Dan Blankenship, chief executive.
Bye, bye Capella, and hello Madeline
MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. - The Hotel Capella Telluride is no more. Opened just two years ago, with service levels and other quality in the same league as all the continent's best hotels, it has been rechristened the Hotel Madeline Telluride.
How long it will remain that is anybody's guess. The $200 million property had a note of $156 million - and the developer needed to sell real estate in the project condo-hotel to pay the construction debt. He has sold exactly none, which by October was enough of a problem that the lender initiated foreclosure proceedings.
The primary lender is Swedbank, the leading bank in Sweden, which got involved after Lehman brothers tail-spinned into oblivion at the start of the Great Recession. The Telluride Watch explains that that the new name pays homage to Sweden's Princess Madeline.
In January, it was widely rumored that the hotel would close as of February, because of continued financial difficulties. Now, it looks like the hotel is here to stay - at least through ski season.
But two other high-end properties that had been planned in Mountain Village, the slope-side town at Telluride, never got off the ground. The parcel of land where a Rosewood hotel was planned has now fallen into foreclosure for the second time in two years. The first developer, New York's Aaron Honigman, couldn't repay a $50 million bridge loan to begin construction on the property two years ago.
So, the junior lender, Ramsfield Hospitality Finance, ended up owning the land. But little got done there, save for some condominiums that sold at far less than the prices being paid in 2007.
"The market is very difficult right now," said Richard Mandel, president of Manhattan-based Ramsfield Hospitality Finance. "The land isn't worth as much as it used to be worth."
Bank of America, the senior lender, could end up owning the land if no one bids. The Telluride Daily Planet said the price would start at just more than $25 million.
Meanwhile, in Utah, bankruptcy of Premier Resorts International, known also as Deer Valley Lodging, is likely to wrap up this year. The company went into bankruptcy in May 2009.
In court filings, reports The Park Record , the company estimated debts of $13 million to tax authorities, former employees, vendors and condominium owners who never received their share of winter revenue. It said it has assets of $725,000.
Danny Kelley, an attorney for the bankruptcy trustee, told the newspaper that the trustee is coming to the conclusion that the money had been sent to a resort in South Carolina to fund operations and losses.