The Aspen Times’ headlines of the year in 2018
January 1, 2019
The Lake Christine Fire left more than frayed nerves and indelible memories from 2018. There also is much work to do in its aftermath.
What is to come with the recovery from the 12,588-acre wildfire will be one of the area's top stories to follow in 2019.
The Aspen Times staff put together the top 10 stories of 2018, and for perspective, we are giving an outlook of these stories' significance in the year ahead.
The biggest concern with the post-Lake Christine Fire, which took three months to fully contain, is to undertake projects to mitigate possible flooding and mudslides of areas in the Roaring Fork Valley floor beneath the burn scar. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $20.2 million in November for wildfire recovery projects connected to three fires in Colorado, including the Lake Christine Fire, which affected the Basalt and El Jebel areas.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, will work with Eagle County, the town of Basalt and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as well as private property owners, on restoration projects.
CPW already has taken steps such as construction of check dams and seeding to speed recovery and control runoff from the Basalt State Wildlife Area, which stretches on the hillside from Basalt to El Jebel. The Forest Service has improved drainage to try to prevent the washout of Basalt Mountain Road.
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The Forest Service also has proposed removing hazard trees along roads and trails on Basalt Mountain and conducting a salvage harvest of burned trees on some parts of the mountain. That proposal is currently open to public comment.
Meanwhile, the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association is exploring ways to assist the agency to speed removal of hazard trees along popular mountain biking trails on Basalt Mountain.
It remains to be seen how private landowners with homes in the wildland-urban interface will respond to last summer's calamity. The Lake Christine Fire started July 3, destroyed three houses, threatened numerous others and fouled the air during the summer.
Fire departments throughout the valley are hoping landowners take advantage of programs where their property will be assessed for wildfire risk and tips offered for mitigating that risk. FirstBank provided a $50,000 grant for wildlife mitigation in Basalt and unincorporated Eagle County. The town of Basalt will seek as much as $5,000 for a vegetation-thinning project on a hillside across Midland Spur from Lions Park. It's hoping that project inspires people to mitigate their own properties.
— Scott Condon
ASPEN SCHOOL DISTRICT
Of the many objectives this year for the Aspen School District is to shake off the tumultuous fall that rattled its administrative offices and divided the community in 2018.
One of those steps includes the board of education's hiring of Denver consulting firm Wilson Foxen Inc. to meet in January with individuals — from parents to teachers to administrators and others — to gauge a solid understanding of the purported dissent and problems plaguing the district.
The five-member board of education in October also appointed Dwayne Romero to president and made Susan Marolt vice president, following two years under Sheila Wills (president) and Sandra Peirce (vice president).
Unresolved matters at the school district include the status of human resources director Elizabeth Hodges, who currently is on paid administrative leave. In December, Maloy said he was placing Hodges on leave and taking steps to fire her.
Hodges, however, has reserved her contractual right to appeal the matter to the board of education, which has decided to hire an independent hearing officer to review the case and make a nonbinding recommendation to the board.
Maloy made the decision after Hodges' background came to light in August; her transgressions included a disbarment by the state of Missouri in April and a misdemeanor conviction for her work as an estate-planning attorney in Missouri.
Meanwhile, a parents group mobilized in September and offered harsh criticism of the superintendent, not only for his initial handling of Hodges but for what they claimed was a disenfranchised faculty and dropping academic performances.
Their outcry, as well as simmering tensions over Maloy's leadership style, led the board to not renew his contact past its June 30, 2021, expiration date. The board has the option to buy out Maloy, the superintendent of Aspen schools since March 2010.
Maloy still has his advocates, many of whom claim he has been unfairly portrayed in the media and by parents who have made unsubstantiated claims.
To that end, the board hired a consultant, whose findings they hope will put the district on more solid footing in the future.
— Rick Carroll
LIFT ONE PROPOSAL
When voters are expected to go to the polls in March to vote on a redevelopment proposal for the base of Aspen Mountain's western side, they will be deciding on a plan that has been in the works for more than two years.
Aspen City Council in the spring of 2017 directed developers looking to build two separate lodge properties to alter their plans to accommodate a new chairlift coming 500 feet farther down the hill.
Developers of the Gorsuch Haus, an 81-room hotel proposed slopeside along South Aspen Street, tabled their land-use application and went back to the drawing board.
So did developers of the Lift One Lodge, a 104-key timeshare property, who already had approvals but not those that accommodated a chairlift down to Dean Street.
Developers, the city and Aspen Skiing Co. hired SE Group, a Frisco-based consultant to study lift alignment options. They came back with nine choices, which were ultimately whittled to one — a telemix chairlift nestled into a 60-foot-wide ski corridor.
Both lodges have been reconfigured and a reimagined western portal to the mountain has been formed. It includes Dean Street as the access point, along with a parking garage with public spaces, and a ski museum to be operated by the Aspen Historical Society.
The museum would be inside a relocated and refurbished Skiers Chalet Lodge that would sit next to the chairlift, and also house skier services and ski patrol.
The Skiers Steakhouse building would be remodeled and turned into a new restaurant and bar.
Aspen City Council is currently reviewing the land-use application known as the "Lift One Corridor" plan. Council is expected to review the plan Jan. 7 and possibly approve an ordinance to put on the March 5 ballot Jan. 14.
— Carolyn Sackariason
SNOWMASS BASE VILLAGE FINALLY REALITY
Base Village has been a long time coming for Snowmass.
On Dec. 15, the developers opened a major portion of the $600 million development, signifying a major addition to Snowmass' landscape.
The project, nearly two decades in the making, consisted of a 99-room Limelight Hotel, a small condominium called the Lumin, a community-use building named The Collective, a Four Mountain Sports shop and an ice rink that will operate as an events plaza in the summer.
Aspen Skiing Co. initially bought 500 acres of the base property in 1999 and formed a partnership with Intrawest Corp. in 2001. The town of Snowmass granted them land-use approvals for the development in 2004.
The partnership started construction in 2005 but sold to Related WestPac in 2007.
Construction of Base Village came to a stop the following year with the economic recession, and remained so for about eight years.
In December 2016, a joint venture formed among Skico, East West Partners and KSL Capital Partners bought Base Village from Related.
So what's next?
East West is now focusing its attention to Buildings 7 and 8, labeled "One Snowmass," as well as five other buildings as part of its long-term vision. Building 7 will be complete this summer and Building 8 prior to the 2019-20 ski season, according to East West managing partner Andy Gunion.
Spanning 140,000 square feet, One Snowmass will boast 41 residences and private amenities, four employee-housing units, four retail storefronts and a 6,000-square-foot medical clinic. Aspen Valley Hospital will relocate its 5,500-square-foot clinic located off the Snowmass Mall to Base Village in 2019.
In the future, East West plans to develop five buildings located between One Snowmass and the Viceroy.
— Erica Robbie
SILVER COMES BACK TO MINING TOWN
Aspen is an incredible sports town, and nothing tugs at our heartstrings like seeing our own compete in the Winter Olympics. The 2018 Games, held in February in South Korea, included a handful of locals.
The highlight was, of course, Alex Ferreira. The halfpipe skier brought home a silver medal in his first Olympics appearance, bested only by reigning champion and close friend David Wise of Nevada. Basalt's Torin Yater-Wallace also competed, taking ninth in his second Olympics appearance.
Other 2018 Olympians included alpine skier Wiley Maple, who made the cut despite not being named to the U.S. Ski Team at the beginning of the season. Noah Hoffman and Simi Hamilton returned to the Olympics in cross-country skiing. There were others — Alice McKennis (ski racing), Chris Corning (snowboarding slopestyle and big air) and Hagen Kearney (alpine snowboarding) — who may not have been true locals, but did have Aspen ties through the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. McKennis, who comes from New Castle, was a surprising fifth in the women's downhill in Pyeongchang.
Looking ahead to the 2022 Beijing Olympics is for Nostradamus, not so much journalists. So much can happen between then and now, but Ferreira and Corning are likely to return and be among the favorites. Yater-Wallace, who broke both his heels at Dew Tour in December, also will be at the top of that list should he be healthy. He's hinted at making a push in ski slopestyle going forward, but that is obviously on hold.
Hoffman retired after the 2017-18 winter season, and Hamilton is unlikely to compete past this winter. Maple and McKennis are veterans, and who knows if they'll still be competing by 2022? Up-and-coming Aspen-area athletes to keep an eye on for the Beijing Games include alpine skier Galena Wardle, cross-country skier Hailey Swirbul and halfpipe skier Cassidy Jarrell.
— Austin Colbert
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City offices get a spot: Almost two years of legal wrangling and millions of dollars in escalated construction costs later, the city of Aspen is poised to begin building its controversial office complex.
The 37,500-square-foot new building is estimated to cost around $26.1 million and will be erected between Rio Grande Park and Galena Plaza where the Aspen Chamber Resort Association was located.
Aspen City Council in April approved the new office building via ordinance.
But a month later, Aspen residents Steve Goldenberg and Marcia Goshorn, with the help of Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, attempted to take the project to a vote through a citizen referendum.
They were denied, however, by the City Clerk's Office for not having enough valid signatures, so the group sued the city.
For most 2017 and 2018, lawyers battled it out, with the court delivering small wins on various motions made by both sides.
Then this past summer, an unusual player entered the fray: developer Mark Hunt, who owns two buildings across the street from City Hall.
He offered to sell 27,000 square feet of turnkey office space at 517 E. Hopkins Ave. and 204 S. Galena St., across from City Hall, for $32.5 million to the city.
The city went under contract and floated the concept to voters in the fall election, along with its original Rio Grande/Galena Plaza option.
In a 57 to 43 percent margin, voters went with the city's original plan at Rio Grande.
That could have partly been because Hunt's offer was between $5.5 million to $7.5 million higher than what two outside appraisers had valued the space for.
The city will begin construction this spring. The project is expected to take two years to construct.
— Carolyn Sackariason
Pot sales coming to Snowmass: Pot shops will be legal in Snowmass on April 1, and no, that's not an April Fools joke.
After talking about marijuana for more than five years — Colorado voters approved recreational pot sales in November 2012 — a Town Council majority decided last summer that Snowmass' future would include (closely regulated) pot shops.
Dispensaries have been under a moratorium in Snowmass Village since 2013. The Town Council has extended its moratorium, which is now until April 1, three times.
Snowmass and pot have been a point of contention for the town government as well as the community, with a mayor who is staunchly against such a prospect.
Concerns of tainting Snowmass' family-friendly image have been a major part of the conversation, as well.
Ultimately, a 3-2 council vote in late June inched the ball forward. Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler and Town Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk were the dissenting votes.
Unlike Aspen, Snowmass will levy an additional tax on marijuana sales. Snowmass residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of the 5 percent added tax in the November election.
The Town Council is still working to craft its regulatory scheme for marijuana shops. The town intends to treat a marijuana license similar to a liquor license, and also cap the number of shops via its regulations.
Pot shops will most likely be located off the beaten path somewhere at the Snowmass Mall and Snowmass Center, as Town Council has eliminated Base Village from its framework. The developers also have said they are not interested in leasing any spaces to a dispensary, again citing the area's familial reputation.
Per Colorado law, a prospective pot shop owner must already obtain a lease in order to receive a license.
From a state perspective, Snowmass Village is among a small handful of municipalities that still has a moratorium on marijuana.
— Erica Robbie
Pan and Fork development debate: The moment of truth appears to be coming early in 2019 on the long-debated development on the Pan and Fork property in Basalt.
The latest developer with an option on the property has patiently worked with the town staff and council on refinements — tweaking here, overhauling there — to try to come up with something a divided board of elected officials and community will accept.
As it stands, there will be availability of land for expansion of the Basalt River Park, a community-serving building with meeting space and small eateries, shared office space and a residential component that includes affordable micro-housing.
At the Dec. 11 council meeting, Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt credited investor Tim Belinski and his team for coming up with a good plan. "I don't know how we could screw it up, quite frankly," Whitsitt said.
But that was the thought way back in August 2011 when the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. acquired the 2.3 acres where the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park was located. About half of the property was immediately sold to the town for a park along the Roaring Fork River. On the other half, the nonprofit, funded in part by longtime Roaring Fork Valley philanthropist George Stranahan, was going to help relocate the residents out of substandard housing, develop a nonprofit campus and build a hotel to fund it. Most of that plan crashed and burned when the town determined the developer allegedly didn't have the resources to follow through. Next, Lowe Enterprises' Aspen branch looked at a project but ultimately bailed for fear the council wouldn't approve what it wanted. Now Belinski's team has the option to buy the land along Two Rivers Road.
The public perception of the council and Whitsitt, who is a lame duck, rests heavily on how they handle the Pan and Fork hot potato.
If this latest application fails, the partners in Roaring Fork Development Corp. have already warned they will consider a lawsuit against the town.
— Scott Condon
Snowmaking increasing: The starts of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons were a study in contrasts for Aspen Skiing Co.
At the start of last season, Skico's snowmaking crew at Aspen Mountain struggled to get one thin ribbon created to complement snow on the upper third of the mountain. Ajax opened with top-to-bottom skiing despite warm and dry conditions.
This fall, Mother Nature cooperated to the fullest extent with natural snowfall and frigid temperatures perfect for snowmaking. Aspen Mountain was able to open five days prior to Thanksgiving.
But Aspen Skiing Co. isn't taking its foot off the accelerator. It received approvals from the U.S. Forest Service this month to add 53 acres of snowmaking on the upper one-third of Aspen Mountain. If additional approvals from Pitkin County are secured, Skico will implement the first phase of the snowmaking expansion in summer 2019 by adding lines on the One and Two Leaf Trail and Silver Bell.
Skico officials see that as good insurance in an unpredictable and warming world. That would allow the company to cover the upper third of the mountain with natural and man-made snow, use the Ajax Express Lift for repeat skiing on the upper mountain and provide a way down via the Silver Queen Gondola.
"If we do not have temps or natural snow lower down, we can provide skiing up high with a safe access off the mountain," said Katie Ertl, Skico's senior vice president of mountain operations.
— Scott Condon
AHS scores first golf state title: Other than maybe skiing, state championships are few and far between for Aspen High School. But everything came together in a magical way for the AHS boys golf team in the fall, ending in the program's first state championship.
It was a talented core group that included four seniors — Jack Hughes, Dominic Lanese, Dawson Holmes and Colter Zwieg — three of whom have already signed to play collegiately. Hughes, who will play for the University of Colorado, led the way at the 3A state tournament, played at Boulder Country Club. He finished second overall, while junior Jack Pevny tied for fourth and Holmes was 13th. Longtime AHS coach Mary Woulfe was named the 3A coach of the year.
While a repeat state title will be a tall task considering the losses, there is hope for an individual state title should Jack Pevny and younger brother Nic Pevny return. Jack, who will be a senior, will easily be among the preseason favorites, and Nic, who will be a sophomore, isn't far behind. A group of talented junior varsity players from this past season will be competing for those final varsity spots in the fall.
— Austin Colbert