Aspen year in review, part 1
December 30, 2016
Editor's Note: The Aspen Times selected 12 stories from 2016 that make up 2016's top newsmakers. Five stories appear today and the remaining seven will publish tomorrow.
City freezes commercial development
If you were the owner or developer of commercial property in Aspen in 2016, any plans you had to remodel, tweak or refine your property got put on hold starting in the middle of March.
That's because on March 16, the Aspen City Council — concerned about the growing number of residential projects downtown as well as a land-use code that was out of line with the overall desires of Aspen residents — passed an emergency ordinance freezing all development applications in the city's commercial zone districts. The ban did not apply to residential or lodging districts but was enforced in the city's commercial, service-commercial-industrial, neighborhood commercial and mixed-zone districts.
Known as Ordinance 7, the legislation stated in part: "Recent development activity indicates that locally serving and unique businesses are being negatively impacted and pushed out of existence. … Recent development activity has resulted in basement and first-floor commercial spaces being left vacant due to free-market residential uses/owners above thereby creating large areas of dead space in the commercial zones that degrade the city's commercial vitality."
Critics called the move an abuse of the council's power.
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In the meantime, the City Council met countless hours with city planners over the year to align the land-use code with the Aspen Area Community Plan, a summary of residents' vision for the town.
The moratorium is scheduled to expire Feb. 28, provided the council meets its goal to revamp the code.
Lodges need a lift
Two lodges proposed for the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain were in the public eye for much of 2016, with the location of a chairlift being a source of contention among developers.
Both the Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge are eyed for the base of the mountain, with the Gorsuch Haus located above the Lift One development.
Negotiations between the developers of each lodge broke down over the location of a replacement chairlift for 1A. Gorsuch developers have it planned to start at their hotel; residents and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission wanted it extended farther downslope to Dean Street by the Lift One Lodge.
Neither side, however, could make the necessary concessions to reach a compromise.
The Gorsuch Haus, meanwhile, has its work cut out. While the City Council approved its plans 4-0 on first reading in December, it's no secret that the project will get heightened scrutiny at its public hearing in February. The entire proposal in its current iteration would have 70,134 square feet of floor area and 127,525 of gross area.
The plans for Lift One Lodge have received U.S. Forest Service approval, but it still needs a look from local boards and commissions.
Pfister survivor wins six-figure payout
Nancy Masson, formerly known as Nancy Styler and was once accused of aiding in the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister, saw her bankruptcy case come to a conclusion in 2016, with little money left in her pockets to show for it.
Masson struck a confidential settlement with Pfister's surviving daughter, Juliana, who had intervened in the bankruptcy case with a wrongful death claim.
The bankruptcy was declared in a Massachusetts court in July 2015, and later revealed that Masson collected $1 million from the life insurance policy of her ex-husband, William Styler, who hanged himself in a Canon City prison cell in August 2015. Styler, who confessed that he acted alone when Pfister was beaten to death at her West Buttermilk home in February 2014, was serving a 20-year sentence for Pfister's murder.
The life insurance collection prompted Juliana Pfister to file the death claim in the bankruptcy case in February. A judge froze $850,000 of the life insurance claim, dispersing the remaining balance of $150,000 to Masson's creditors, including $103,143 to Juliana Pfister.
Pfister also collected the $850,000 that was frozen by the judge; her claim had sought $25 million from Masson.
Power Plant unplugged
The fate of the former site of the Aspen Art Museum at 590 N. Mill St. had a community divided, with the prized space ultimately being used as temporary digs for the city government.
Like all things Aspen, this became a political hot potato with threats of litigation hanging in the balance.
The issue: the City Council in March 2015 had blessed a proposal by a group of young Aspen businessmen to convert the city-owned, two-level building into a beer garden, restaurant, TV studio and event space on the ground floor, with a cut-rate, 65-space office setting on the second floor.
The lease, however, had not been finalized, sparking a community debate about whether a for-profit venture should be allowed to occupy a space coveted by local nonprofits. Well-heeled residents who live near the building also dug in, saying alcohol service would disrupt their quality of life and harm their property values.
Zoning concerns also clouded the effort by the entrepreneurs to take up the space. In June, the City Council said it would not approve a lease for the group called the Aspen Power Plant project.
"We're just pushing it too hard. I'm deeply sorry, and I'm heartbroken that we've come this far without … a solution and that we badly disappointed this wonderful group," Councilman Art Daily said.
For the time being, the city will use the space for government offices as it embarks on a remodel of City Hall and builds a civic building overlooking Rio Grande Park.
Man takes hostages on Lincoln Creek Road
Five months after a Colorado Springs resident held three men at gunpoint along a well-traveled dirt road on Independence Pass, it still isn't clear what set the man off.
Brolin McConnell, 30, parked his vehicle in the middle of Lincoln Creek Road on July 27 and randomly chose the next three men who drove past to hold hostage. McConnell repeatedly traumatized the three men by pointing two handguns at their heads and threatening to shoot them dead.
All three men escaped injury when they were able to run away from McConnell, and police rushed in and arrested him.
Law enforcement officers speculated at the time that McConnell was suffering from a mental breakdown or was possibly under the influence of methamphetamines. Blood tests later showed only a small amount of marijuana was in his system at the time, and there have been no reports of previous mental health problems.
McConnell has been charged with a slew of felonies and faces decades in prison if he's found guilty of the charges. He remains incarcerated in the Pitkin County Jail.
2017 World Cup Finals confirmed
Aspen's hosting of the 2017 World Cup Finals was confirmed in June after some question if the prestigious events would be yanked due to lack of progress with replacing Lift 1A and upgrading the surrounding base area.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) approved the calendar for this winter at its June meeting with little public discussion about Aspen. The event was first awarded to Aspen in June 2014.
The races will be held March 15 to 19 at Aspen Mountain. They trail only the Olympics and World Championships in prestige.
The top 25 men's and women's racers in each discipline on the World Cup circuit this season will compete in eight speed and technical races as well as a mixed-gender team race.
A downhill race will be held for both men and women on the opening day, March 15. That will be followed by a super G on March 16 and the Nations Team Event on March 17.
The men's and women's slalom and giant slalom races will be staggered over the weekend, March 18 and 19.
The winners in each discipline will be crowned during the finals as will the overall World Cup points champions.
This will be the first time the World Cup Finals have been held outside of Europe since 1997, so it's a rare chance for U.S. race fans to see an event of this magnitude.