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Mountain Town News

Aspen Times writer

Some places have enacted limits on the size of homes, sometimes to great protest. In Gunnison County, the proposal is going in the opposite direction – to allow smaller houses.The current limit there is 600 square feet, but county planners recommend 400 square feet. They argue smaller homes will accommodate people who are constrained by tight budgets.Can a house be built so small and still have enough insulation? That was the concern voiced by the county building inspector, reports the Crested Butte News. Maybe not, but it will be up to the builder to figure out how to meet building codes, says a county commissioner.

Teton County commissioners took little time in boosting the affordable housing requirements of builders. Before, developers had to allocate 15 percent of units to affordable housing; now it’s 25 percent.In other words, explains the Jackson Hole News&Guide, a developer building 100 homes must now provide 25 affordable units, instead of 15. This is in comparison to 60 percent in Aspen, where a hotel developer recently volunteered to up the ante to 100 percent.In Jackson Hole, town councilors are moving more slowly, but a preliminary 3-to-2 vote suggests they will follow Teton County’s lead. Some of the hesitation is caused by the belief that there are fewer trophy homes within Jackson than in the unincorporated county, and hence fewer impacts.Up for discussion is whether requiring more affordable housing will in fact boost the cost of all housing. In the past several years, home prices have increased 79 percent, compared to 22 percent for wages.

In the early days of space travel, the first artifacts of human civilization visible to astronauts were the smoke and steam from two coal-fired plants in the Four Corners region, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet.Now, a third power plant, called Desert Rock, is proposed. It’s in New Mexico, but on the Navajo Nation. Proponents cite the 420 permanent jobs the plant would offer in a place that has few, plus the $43 million a year in tax and royalty payments that the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates the Navajo government will get.But opposition is large and growing. One issue is mercury. Testing done at nearby Mesa Verde National Park, as well as various reservoirs in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains, reveals mercury levels that already exceed recommended levels – so much so that mothers and children are advised to limit their consumption of fish taken from them.How much of this is mercury occurring naturally and how much comes from the nearby power plants, scientists cannot yet say. The new coal-fired plant will emit 80 percent less mercury as compared to the old coal-fired plants. Still, that’s not enough in the eyes of many. Health regulators are considering rules in Colorado that would force new power plants to capture 95 percent of their mercury.Greenhouse gas emissions are also an issue. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced his opposition in July because of the estimated 12 million tons of carbon dioxide that the plant would emit annually. It would increase the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 15 percent, making goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions difficult – if not impossible – to meet.”I believe we need to be moving forward, toward new carbon-capture ready technologies for power generation, not back to the old dirty coal plants of the past,” said Richardson.Also opposing the project are Durango and other local governments, and now U.S. Congressman John Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado. The Four Corners area is already overloaded with significant pollutants due to the two existing power plants, he said. “A major new source of emissions as proposed by Desert Rock is simply unacceptable.”In an editorial, the Durango Herald said that while the Navajo Nation deserves economic-development opportunities, it should not be at the expense of the environmental health of an entire region.”Repeated attempts to end discussion at mention of jobs and revenue for the Navajo unrealistically ignores the broader – and no less significant – implications of Desert Rock,” said the paper.

All-terrain vehicles in Gunnison County are becoming a problem, or problems.Part of the problem, explains the Crested Butte News, is that Forest Service roads have fewer restrictions than county roads, but riders may not realize that when they leave the national forest.Too, rules differ depending upon where you are from. Colorado-licensed ATV riders cannot drive on county roads. However, 27 states treat ATVs as cars, and so they can drive ATVs on roads in Colorado. In this case, a court has ruled, riders are subject to the rules from where they came, not where they are. Understandably, this is not the easiest idea to communicate – nor to swallow, if you’re a local rider.But another problem, says Gunnison County Commissioner Jim Starr, is that many ATV riders need more respect for the land. If they don’t, he says, their rights will be curtailed.Local ATV dealer Adam Griffith said nearly 1.2 million ATVs were sold in the United States last year, suggesting that the problems will continue.

In the context of Aspen, Jackson Hole or Vail, the listing of a 17-acre in-town parcel for $5.4 million would not even merit a small story. Summit County’s real estate market is robust, but at a lower price point.That listing was cited by the Summit Daily News as the single-most-expensive homesite in Summit County history. The record price for a home sale in Breckenridge was set in August when a six-bedroom house sold for $5.5 million. Also, two lots, of a half-acre and one acre in size, sold for more than $2 million.By way of comparison, a home in Vail close to the lifts was purchased in the early 1990s for $4.3 million – then promptly razed.

Is a Home Depot moving to Silverthorne? The hardware and lumber store chain has purchased a 4.5-acre site in Silverthorne, located along I-70 in Summit County. A consulting firm representative told the Summit Daily News that the company figured it was a no-lose situation. The company hopes to build a store, but if not, real estate prices in Summit County are expected to rise. The town already has a Target. Home Depot had hoped to locate in Frisco, about four miles away, but was rejected by the citizenry. The closest Home Depots now currently are in Avon, about 35 miles west, and Golden, 60 miles east.

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Steamboat Springs continues to debate how much the future should look like the past. The City Council this summer adopted a moratorium on razing or major reconfiguration of buildings more than 50 years old. One objection has been that historic designations that curtail private property rights decrease market values of those properties.Not so, says Dan Corson, an official with the Colorado Historical Society. At a meeting recently attended by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Corson said there is no case recorded of values going down because of historic preservations. To the contrary, he cites a figure that heritage tourism – which is based upon a place’s history – makes up 40 percent of Colorado’s total tourism industry.Tim McHarg, formerly a planner in Steamboat and now in Durango, said the city’s previous standards would have allowed larger houses, what are often called McMansions, to destroy the character of historic neighbors. “What you end up with is a lot of houses on steroids,” he said.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at allen.best@comcast.net.