Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Steamboat Springs continues to debate how it can remain different, avoiding the homogenization of so-called formula stores, without becoming a museum and irrelevant to changing needs. This debate began at least in the late 1980s, when the town resisted the arrival of Wal-Mart. It finally acquiesced but not before imposing restrictions. In more recent years, it has more tightly capped the size of stores, mostly in the old downtown core.But with 90,000 feet of retail space coming on line in a wave of redevelopment, the city is now talking about restrictions on even small franchises, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today. The city government’s preliminary definition of a formula store is a store or restaurant among a chain of 10 more that contains standardized merchandise, facade, décor, uniforms and signs.The city already has several such stores, including Images of Nature, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Blimpie Subs and Salads.Restrictions being reviewed could limit one such store per corner, or at least mandate 75-feet separations.Brad Maxwell, owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, told the newspaper that property-defined restrictions would help preserve the small-town feel. And some local store owners believe that existing franchises draw visitors that help them.The drawing power of familiar names was also alluded to by Ty Lockhart, owner of Steamboat’s iconic F.M. Light & Sons, a century-old clothing store. “People do not want the Gaps and the Ralph Laurens, but then there is the question of how many ‘mom and pops’ will be able to afford that new space,” he says.

Will it be possible to eventually hop on a train in Denver and zip to Frisco, Vail or beyond? That tantalizing idea has been roaming the Interstate 70 for a decade now. Mountain communities, particularly in the Georgetown and Idaho Springs area, have repeatedly argued for a monorail.In a story headlined, “Railroaded,” Denver’s Westword revisits the idea, arguing that Colorado’s Department of Transportation has been unfairly pushing, i.e. “railroading,” a widening of the highway to the exclusion of rail-based mass-transit alternatives.In particular, the article gives credence to a new push for passenger rail. After being talked about for decades, such passenger rail is enjoying a limited revival. Pushed by Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico now has passenger rail near Albuquerque, with plans to connect to Santa Fe. A vision beyond that imagines the rail loping across Raton Pass and then northward along the Front Range of Colorado and into Wyoming at Casper.Bill Briggs, a former state legislator from metropolitan Denver, is also expanding the vision westward from Denver to Dotsero, at the mouth of Glenwood Canyon. The group is called Rocky Mountain Rail Authority. Financial supporters include the Aspen-based Roaring Fork Transit Authority and the Wyoming Legislature.The current plan is to ask Colorado voters in 2008 to approve a so-called statewide passenger-rail system. The group is focusing on a mag-lev system used in both China and Japan and a rail technology used in Switzerland. Backers insist both technologies can be used for the extended steep inclines of the I-70 corridor.

Summit County’s right to forbid cyanide heap leach mining has been upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals. This ruling rejects an earlier decision that favored the mining industry.The Summit Daily News explains that mining industry officials see the regulations as a possible first step toward more restrictions. Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, which had sued to block the regulations, said regulations should be set by the state government, not local jurisdictions, to avoid a “patchwork of regulations.”Summit County’s regulations fall short of a complete ban on mining, singling out just specific types of mining. As such, state regulations require mining operators to comply with local land-use regulations.Four other counties in Colorado have passed similar land-use regulations, including Gunnison, where Crested Butte is located, and Gilpin, site of the Central City and Blackhawk casinos. Two other counties, Conejos, and Costilla, were heavily impacted by a mining disaster called Summitville that resulted from use of cyanide heap leach mining.Ouray County, near Silverton and Telluride, considered such regulations but rejected them.

Opponents of a proposed coal-fired electricity-generation plant in the Four Corners area think the tide may be turning in their favor. Still, the broader tide is not. The Christian Science Monitor reports a global boom in coal power – and greenhouse gases.The plan in New Mexico, called Desert Rock, would be not only one of the cleanest power plants assembled, but also one of the largest. Although it has received preliminary approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, notes the Durango Telegraph, New Mexico recently rejected an $85 million tax subsidy.The Four Corners already has two major coal-fired electricity plants, both of which emit major quantities of carbon dioxide, mercury and other pollutants. Several lakes in the San Juan Mountains have dangerously high levels of mercury, although there is no confirmed link between the toxicity of the mountain lakes and the power plants in the desert.However, the Monitor reports that the world during the last five years has binged on new coal-fired plants, with more than two new plants per week. China accounted for more than two-thirds of the 560 coal-fired power plants built between 2002 and 2006. The United States added 2.7 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity during that same time, and is slated to add 37.7 gigawatts of capacity during the next five years.But even nations that have pledged to reduce global warming under the Kyoto Treaty are building power plants. The newspaper cites eight European Union nations that have added coal-fired power plant capacity almost as rapidly as the United States.

A set of voluntary “green” building standards is being reviewed in Whistler, although those regulations could become mandatory. The standards aim to reduce construction waste and energy consumption and also improve residential environments.City planner Guy Patterson tells Pique that the new regulations will result in decreased infrastructure costs to the municipality. For example, less asphalt means less runoff, which means less need for big stormwater systems. Also, homes constructed with less waste take up less space in landfills. Patterson concedes that greener building standards may increase costs of new housing, but will make housing more affordable in the long run. “Is a geothermal heat pump system more expensive than electric baseboard?” Yes, he said, but it makes sense to pay more upfront to ensure cost benefits over time.

Real estate is moving more rapidly in the exurban valleys adjacent Jackson Hole. In Star Valley, an area on the far side of the Snake River Canyon, sales volume has increased nearly 600 percent in the last five years, and average sales prices have increased by about the same proportion.The same thing has occurred in the Teton Valley of Idaho, located on the west side of the Teton Range. Real estate agents, in an advertising supplement to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, say the price structure is indicative of a place that is becoming less of a bedroom community to Jackson Hole and more of a self-sustaining market.

The redevelopment of Vail is rather breathtaking in its enormity. More than $1 billion in redevelopment has been approved, and most of it is under construction. Last year alone, building permits for $355 million in construction were issued.The most significant construction now under way is at the LionsHead base area, west of Vail Village, where a huge project called the Arrabelle is taking shape. It is tall and bulky, and at least one councilman who helped approve it, Kevin Foley, tells the Vail Daily he’s rather sorry he did.But new projects keeping popping up. Insiders say every property in town seems to be at play.The Daily also reports a long list of projects, both probable and possible, that are in the planning and financing pipeline. Among the largest of them is a redevelopment of the LionsHead 1,100-space parking structure into a housing and retail complex – and with increased parking.In addition, Vail Resorts is plotting its next real estate product, a $1 billion redevelopment of its existing office building and retail complex. The new project is being called Ever Vail.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at