Mountain Town News |

Mountain Town News

Allen Best

Whistler is out of its doldrums. Both winter and summer have been busy, and the pace of development is picking up in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. On the other hand, the lack of housing for employees is once again an issue.”I would describe it as a crisis looming on our horizon,” said Councilor Ralph Forsyth at a recent forum. The municipality has sowed the seeds for a 50 percent increase in deed-restricted housing, from 4,000 now to 6,000 expected in the next four years. However, the comments reported by Pique newsmagazine indicate that’s not nearly enough. Also at issue are increased transportation costs.Whistler figures that an individual needs to earn $26,000, or $60,000 for families, to pay rent, buy groceries, with still enough free time to take vacations and enjoy what Whistler has to offer.Among the ideas being investigated are temporary trailers or modular housing, and also a daily shuttle service from Vancouver, two hours distant.

Opponents of a major real estate project next to the Wolf Creek Ski Area in southern Colorado have won a court ruling.A Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Mineral County commissioners wrongly approved the project, called the Village at Wolf Creek, because the road, which was the sole means of access, is unsuitable for year-round use. The road is covered by as much as 10 feet of snow. Because of that faulty premise for approval, Mineral County must review the project again, but this time with the proper information.Colorado Wild, one of the two environmental groups that filed the lawsuit, described the court decision as a “small step in the right decision,” according to Ryan Demmy Bidwell, the group’s executive director.While there is no reason to believe Mineral County won’t approve the project again, the decision still is “quite important in its larger implications,” Bidwell added.He explained that Mineral County’s approval was then cited by the U.S. Forest Service as the grounds for permitting another road across Forest Service land to the private inholding. By treating the real-estate development as a foregone conclusion, the Forest Service argued that it therefore did not have to address the impact of the real estate development on surrounding federal lands. Colorado Wild argues that it does.In a separate lawsuit, Colorado Wild is suing the Forest Service, arguing that the approval of the road dodged the question of its impacts. In other words, if not for this second road, the real estate project couldn’t be done.The project, if built as proposed, would yield 2,172 housing units, most of them in timeshare configurations. Elevation of the new town would be at nearly 10,300 feet, with the nearest towns – Pagosa Springs and South Fork – about 20 miles away.Bankrolling the real estate project is B.J. “Red” McCombs, a Texas-based businessman who made his first fortune in car dealerships and, until recently, owned the Minnesota Vikings.The story goes back to the early 1980s, when the ski industry was rapidly growing. With no private lands, Wolf Creek had no lodging component. It still doesn’t. But a land exchange consummated in 1986 yielded 287 acres of private land next to the ski area. Then, as growth in the ski industry slowed, the real estate market slumped.The project was revived in the mid-1990s, but soon after, owners of the ski area, the Pitcher family, withdrew their support. The McCombs group then sued the Pitchers.

Student enrollment is down for the eighth time in nine years in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Altogether, the district has lost 15 percent of its enrollment since 1999.The story told by the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee is a familiar one: higher costs of living are causing families with children to leave the area. This is despite a housing market where the median price has dropped $100,000 in the last year. The overall population continues to grow.Much the same story was told in school districts in resort areas of the Rocky Mountains in recent years. However, during the last two years, enrollments have begun to grow again. The Aspen Times, echoing reports from Jackson Hole to Crested Butte, this week reports increased enrollment once again in schools there.

Telluride’s town government has signed on to become the latest ski town to draw a line on real estate and other offices in the town’s retail core. Some 20 percent of the town’s main street, called Colorado Avenue, is currently occupied by real estate and other offices. The stated goal of this zoning is to “increase vibrancy of downtown core businesses.” Town officials expect to revisit the issue within the next year.The Summit Daily News says that Breckenridge, where real estate offices now occupy 20 percent of Main Street locations, is also considering such a restriction. Breckenridge’s town council also passed an ordinance restricting residential development on its main street.Many other resort towns have also adopted such zoning, starting with Vail in 1973 and followed in recent years by Aspen and, most recently, Crested Butte and Park City.

Despite Whistler’s previous commitment to lower its greenhouse gas emissions, they are increasing. Still, the municipal government is joining other municipalities in British Columbia to pledge an even more rigorous commitment, reducing emissions by a third by the year 2020.British Columbia has signed the Western Climate Initiatives along with six states in the West, including California and Utah. Colorado and Utah are said to be participating in the process as observers, as is the Mexican state of Sonora. Alberta, however, has opted out of the plan.Canada’s emissions have increased 27 percent since 1990. To meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol, the nation would have to decrease emissions by 33 percent within five years – something that the federal government has said is impossible.

Ten or 15 years ago, you could barely give away compact fluorescent light bulbs. They were big and, to the annoyance of many, flickered uncertainly when you turned on the switch.Those days are gone. Sierra Pacific Power gave away the compact fluorescents on a recent day in South Lake Tahoe, and all 10,000 were gone within two hours.The lights use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last far longer. They are also more expensive. Still, incandescent bulbs are on their way out, says the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Nevada has banned their sale effective 2012. Similar legislation is in the works in Congress.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at