Mountain Town News: Aspen Skico affordable housing faces pushback |

Mountain Town News: Aspen Skico affordable housing faces pushback

Allen Best, author of Mountain Town News.
Courtesy of Allen Best

New homes for teachers with a very low carbon footprint

BASALT, Colo. – Thirteen-year old Isabelle “Izzy” Walker was happy to tell several dozen sun-baked listeners gathered outside her new home last Saturday morning about just how her world had turned around.

Her parents had split up and her mother, a pre-school teacher, told her they were going to move into a new house. It was not a happy thought. “I thought it was the end of my life,” she said.

That was then. “Now I can see it’s the beginning of my life,” she said.

The house is among 27 being built in Basalt Vista, an affordable housing project in Basalt, located 18 miles down-valley from Aspen and Snowmass. The developer is Habitat for Humanity, working in a partnership with the Roaring Fork School District and many others on land above Basalt High School provided by the school district.

The school district had 61 rental units, but 14 houses being built on the hillside above Basalt High School will be available for purchase by teachers, other school district employees at well below market costs. The school district serving the Basalt-El Jebel-Glenwood Springs area had previously obtained housing for rent to employees. With this, the employees can buy into Basalt Vista with the small two-bedroom units starting at $250,000 and four-bedroom units at $350,000, each discounted $25,000 if the purchasers had sweat equity.

Another 13 units will be reserved for employees in Pitkin County, who will be determined on a lottery basis. The county waived $3 million in road and other infrastructure fees.

Market prices for comparable units would be northward of $700,000, according to Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat for the Roaring Fork Valley, the developer of the projects.

At the dedication, Paul Freeman, a high school principal, pointed out that housing in Basalt costs $15,000 more than even in a Denver suburb, and the school district pays $15,000 less. This, he said, will help attract and retain good teachers.

But Basalt Vista may be even more important as an effort in what is called beneficial electrification. No natural gas pipelines were laid into the subdivision. The homes and the hot water the residents use will be heated entirely by air-source heat pumps powered by electricity.

Holy Cross Energy, the electricity provider, has taken concrete steps to dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of its electricity during the coming decade. It’s now at 39% renewables but last year adopted a goal of 70% by 2030. However, directors of the electrical co-operative think they can exceed that goal far sooner and set even a higher decarbonization goal.

The houses at Basalt Vista will still be connected to the electrical grid, but the duplexes and triplexes will produce as much energy in a year as they consume. That will make them net-zero, all-electric units. Utility bills for the homes are expected to be 85% less than houses of comparable size. All homes are well insulated, to minimize heating and cooling needs.

The first four units have lithium-ion batteries that can store electricity generated during the day by rooftop solar panels for use at night. But the storage could also be useful if electrical transmission from outside sources gets disrupted. Last summer, on a fire that began July 3, it very nearly was. Across the valley from Basalt Vista, charred trees from the Lake Christine fire were visible above the town. The fire severed three of the four transmission lines that delivered electricity to Basalt but also Snowmass and portions of Aspen.

The project enjoyed $550,000 in grants to enable all 27 units to be net-zero.

There was also much sweat equity. Ryan Mahoney, the town manager in Basalt, recalled a sunny winter day with not too much wind on the roof. Thousands of volunteer hours were invested. Among those lending a hand were the new homeowners and, in the case of young Izzy, their children.

“Any time I look at my home, I am going to see all the love and care that was put into building it,” said the golden-locked girl.

The pushback on Aspen Skiing’s affordable housing

BASALT, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. wants to build 148 bedrooms of affordable housing in Basalt, close to Starbucks, a couple of grocery stories and a block or two away from a bus stop that zips riders the 18 miles to Snowmass and Aspen. What’s not to like?

The Aspen Times reports deep division on the Basalt Town Council, which has tentatively approved the project in a 4-2 vote.

Instead of building affordable housing, why not pay people more? Jim Laing, who oversees human resources for the company, told council members that it’s a tried-and-failed approach.

“Paying people more we know is not the answer,” he said at meeting covered by the Times’ Scott Condon. “We’ve done that. We also know of doctors, lawyers, town staff, etc. – everyone struggles with housing. Simply paying people more isn’t the answer. If you do that, you’re just going to drive up rental rates further and landlords are just going to get richer.”

The only way to make a difference in the Roaring Fork Valley, he added, is to “build new housing and charge a reasonable and fair level of rent.”

Laing said that the company currently has housing inventory for 723 people, and it charges roughly half the market rate. If the project goes forward, it will have 871 beds. The company has a goal of 1,200 beds.

Why does the company need more housing? It mostly has to do with the aging workforce. Older employees often have their housing secured. Workers who cannot afford to purchase housing replace them.

Some in Basalt, where 500 of the Aspen Skiing Co. employees live, said they thought the company should be required to have community housing, not company housing.

Another argument was that the plan called for too little structured parking. Mike Kaplan, the company’s chief executive, dismissed that argument for a parking garage as “Stone Age thinking and Stone Age planning.”

Moroccans recruited for their culinary skills

WHISTLER, B.C. – Nearly 50 Moroccan chefs have landed in Whistler since last September, the result of a federal program aimed to promote French speaking along with recruitment called Culinary Recruitment International.

The firm, headed by Joel Chevalier, a former vice president for Whistler Blackcomb, the ski area, works with employers across British Columbia and Alberta. These Moroccan immigrants were targeted because of their culinary skills. Each individual qualifies for two separate two-year work permits.

Adjustments are made for the cultural and religious differences. The Fairmont hotel, for example, has male and female prayer rooms for its Muslim staff.

But there have been some adjustment challenges, says Carole Stretch, program manager of the Whistler Multicultural Network.

“I think we work very hard to be welcoming, but I’m not sure that welcoming is the same as being inclusive,” said Stretch at a recent talk covered by Pique Newsmagazine. “I think being inclusive is recognizing the differences and trying to understand them, and finding ways to work together so we all achieve what we want.”

Aspen wants plan for the dockless bikes, scooters

ASPEN, Colo. – Dockless bikes haven’t hit Aspen yet, but companies have expressed interest in setting up shop there. But first, Aspen’s city government wants to get ahead, setting up rules for dockless bikes, scooters and other transportation devices that have been taking cities by storm.

The Aspen Times reports that Councilwoman Rachel Richards is among those who supported development of a comprehensive plan to manage dockless transportation modes. At a recent meeting, she said she had seen what they have done to other communities in which bikes and scooters have been abandoned on streets and sidewalks, tossed in the trash, and even thrown in a river.

Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, said he had recently attended a symposium at which 100 municipalities were represented. Conversations were about scooters, not e-bikes, he said.

Denver, for example, is still trying to sort through rules for electric scooters, which allow riders to zip in and around pedestrians.

Crusaders gone and the Wolverines in at Canmore

CANMORE, Alberta – Teams from Canmore College High School have become the Wolverines, replacing the old mascot, the Crusaders.

Chris Rogers, the principal, earlier this year suggested that Crusaders needed to be replaced because of connotations of the name during the medieval period. The mascot included a shield.

He told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that a student group charged with evaluating the replacement names overwhelming chose the Wolverines over the other candidates, the Cyclones and the Coyotes.

Teton Valley talking about the Redskin school mascot

DRIGGS, Idaho – Idaho’s Teton Valley has become engaged in a debate about whether to change the name of the school mascot, the Redskins. The valley is on the west side of the Teton Range from Jackson Hole.

A July 8 meeting is scheduled for the auditorium of Teton High School to parse the merits. The Jackson Hole News&Guide say that the debate was triggered in March by a mother of students at the school. The name, said the mother, is inappropriate.

The school no longer has someone dress up as a Native American for sporting events and assemblies, but the mascot remains racist and is grounded in cultural subjugation of indigenous people.

Is it?

The News&Guide reports five native American speakers recently assembled generally agreed in their dislike of the mascot by the school. It’s not clear how many Native Americans, if any, attend the school. They said the intention of the mascot may be honorable, but the impact is otherwise, as it perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans and produces psychological trauma in indigenous children.

A community group called the Save the Redskins had many questions for the five speakers on the panel, including this: Why is it OK for reservations schools to use native iconography for mascots but not Teton High?

Randy‘L Teton, a Shoshone-Bannock, said native schools are entitled to use symbols like “chiefs” because the students are descended from chiefs.

Although they opposed use of the Redskins mascot, panelists spoke of the desire to have a healthy dialogue with people of the Teton Valley and of ways Native American history could be better integrated into the valley’s schools.

Talk of new tobacco tax, but ‘parenting’ dissent

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte has started talking about levying $3 per pack tax on cigarettes and a 40 percent tax on all other nicotine products. The town financial director, Rob Zillioux, estimates the tax could generate $150,000 to $200,000 for the town’s coffers.

Aspen, Avon, and Basalt have levied similar taxes, and they have produced more revenue than was estimated.

The goal is to discourage use of tobacco in Crested Butte while increasing revenue, but the Crested Butte News reports dissent to this so-called “sin tax” by at least one council member. “I’m not sure that doing this in our little town will have the impact we hope. I’m the parent to a child. I’m not interested in being a parent to a neighbor.”

Betty Sue Gurk of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project said higher costs discourage teenagers from starting to smoke or use nicotine products.

Fatalities on high-running rivers and creeks mount

SILVERTON, Colo. – Creeks and rivers swollen with runoff of melted snow and now rain, splashing and dashing, chattering and roaring day and night, are delightful when seen from a bridge or an embankment, but have taken their toll in Colorado among those who have gotten too close.

At least four people have drowned in the San Juan Mountains, the most improbable case being on Stony Pass, a high-clearance four-wheel-drive road between Silverton and Creede. The Durango Herald reported that a Jeep stalled while crossing Pole Creek, a relatively small but fast stream, and one of the occupants was swept away.

“Pole Creek is not huge, but it’s very fast and (at this time of year) very high,” said Sandy Hines, public information office for Hinsdale County. “And of course, everything this year is above what it normally is.”

Waters tend to rise in the evening, after the day’s snowmelt, which may have played a role, said DeAnne Gallegos, a spokeswoman for the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management.

Closer to Silverton, a man driving along a county road appeared to have allowed his tire to get over the edge of a steep embankment, resulting in his pickup sliding into the Animas River. The driver’s body was found a mile downstream. Investigators said alcohol was believed to have been a factor.

A hiker vanished after tumbling into the South Fork of the Rio Grande. Across Wolf Creek Pass, a family was thrown overboard when a raft hit a wave in Class 4/5 waters on the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs. The mother died.

Should rafting companies be prevented from offering trips in such unusually high water? Archuleta County Sheriff Richard Valdez had decided against that. “It’s difficult for the government to step in and say ‘you can’t do that,’” explained Derek Woodman, the undersheriff. “And there should be a certain amount of individual responsibility. Everyone knew what the water flow was, what the rapids were like, and it ended up being an unfortunate situation.”

All the family members were wearing personal flotation devices, helmets, and either a wet suit or a dry suit.

Drownings, mostly associated with rafting trips, have also occurred on the Gunnison River, one on the Eagle River near Beaver Creek, and still one more on the Arkansas River near the Royal Gorge. Two more occurred in rivers along the Front Range bringing Colorado’s water-related total through Monday to 8 drowned and 3 missing, reported The Denver Post.

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