Newsmakers of the year: Part 1
December 30, 2015
Editor's Note: Each December, The Aspen Times compiles a list of the biggest newsmakers of the year. This year, the editorial department selected 13 top stories of 2015, which runs in two parts today and Thursday. Numbers 7 through 13 are included below, as well as a list of "news of the weird" (see story at left).
7. Snowmass Base Village
In a year that at one time was expected to see new construction in Snowmass Base Village for the first time since 2009, the project instead saw a lengthy review process, failed purchase negotiations and the delay of that next phase to 2017.
Base Village spent the first half of the year back before Snowmass Village Town Council, which granted preliminary approval to an application to amend current plans for the project in September.
Shortly after that approval, Related announced it was in talks to sell its remaining Base Village assets to Vail Valley firm East West Partners. When Related returned before the Town Council for final approval in December, it showed up with changes to the application added at East West's behest, including height variances and a request to push back the Viceroy expansion by three to four years.
The elected officials approved the application but not all the height variances. A few days after their vote on first reading, East West announced it was pulling out of negotiations to buy the project. And at the next council meeting Dec. 21, Aspen Skiing Co. announced it would not break ground on the Limelight Snowmass hotel until 2017, if at all.
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2016 will bring construction of some infrastructure in Base Village as well as design work on Buildings 7 and 8. The entire project with the exception of Lot 2 is back in Related's hands, and the public will learn early next year whether Skico is still developing the Limelight there.
— Jill Beathard
8. Mikaela Shiffrin dominates Aspen Winternational
Ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin thrust Aspen into the international spotlight in 2015 when she dominated the World Cup races at the annual Aspen Winternational — in record-setting fashion.
The 20-year-old from Eagle-Vail, also the three-time reigning World Cup slalom champion, won a World Cup slalom on Aspen Mountain by a margin of 3.07 seconds, the largest margin of victory in women's World Cup slalom history.
Shiffrin also ended a 34-year American drought in Aspen, becoming the first U.S. woman since Tamara McKinney to win a World Cup race here.
She proceeded to win a second World Cup slalom in Aspen, posting the fastest time in all four slalom runs.
Shiffrin left Aspen with the overall World Cup lead.
Shiffrin nearly made it 3-for-3 on the Aspen World Cup weekend, but she slipped down just two gates from the finish while leading in the second run of the giant slalom at Aspen Mountain.
The popular American skier, however, suffered a knee injury before a race in Sweden three weeks ago. She's back home in Colorado, undergoing treatment and rehabilitation with hopes of returning to World Cup competition later this season.
— Dale Strode
9. Aspen High School boys lacrosse win first state title
The Aspen High School boys lacrosse team won its first state title in 2015 and broke a statewide glass ceiling in the process.
The Skiers, who had reached the state semifinals in 2014, barged into the state championship game in 2015, defeating Valor Christian, 17-12, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Capping the best season in program history at 17-2, the Skiers and coach Mike Goerne broke the Front Range stranglehold on high school lacrosse in Colorado. The 2015 Aspen High School boys team is the first mountain team to win a Colorado state lacrosse championship.
Tyler Tick of the Skiers was named a high school All-American, Aspen's first in lacrosse.
Goalie Arthur Kelso was swarmed by his teammates after the final whistle at Sports Authority Field.
The Skiers' state championship roster included a cross section of all-conference standouts including John Heaphey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Trey Robinson, Connor Pierce, Matt Gregory and Jonathan Wells, among others.
— Dale Strode
10. Basalt's Pan and Fork controversy
The battle over the Pan and Fork property near downtown Basalt took more twists and turns than the Roaring Fork River in 2015.
The town government bought 2.9 acres adjacent to the river in August 2011 and is proceeding with plans to develop a riverside park. So far, so good.
The nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. bought 2.3 acres abutting Two Rivers Road. The fate of that property has sparked controversy throughout the year.
The Town Council is getting squeezed by two powerful contingents. One wants to minimize development on the Community Development Corp. parcel and keep most of it as open space. They contend limiting development will preserve Basalt's downtown character and create a legacy property. The other contingent wants to allow more development and use it as a catalyst to spark more economic vitality downtown.
The council hasn't set a clear-cut direction and, at times, has twisted in the wind on the issue. A group of prominent residents, headed by three former council members, launched a petition drive before Christmas to try to resolve the matter. They want to collect enough signatures of voters to force the council to buy the Community Development Corp.'s 2.3 acres for $3 million. That would also require placing a question on the April ballot to issue bonds for the purchase and raise property taxes to pay them off.
— Scott Condon
11. Boogie's Diner closes, building sells
The unceremonious closing of Boogie's Diner hit a sour note with Aspen's 16-and-younger demographic and was the precursor of major changes to the distinct downtown building.
Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, a member of the 2016 Aspen Hall of Fame class, shut down the eatery in April. The next month, he sold the 9,895-square-foot building that housed it for $27.5 million to a New York development firm.
Weinglass opened the diner in 1987, prompting lamenters to call it the "Boogification" of Aspen. But it became an affordable Aspen staple for families, youth teams, seniors and others, including Bill Clinton.
The closing also sparked a lawsuit by one of Weinglass' close friends, Shlomo Ben-Hamoo, who sued him over commission from the sale.
Ben-Hamoo, a broker with Aspen Real Estate Co, alleged Weinglass reneged on a handshake agreement in which at least $550,000 in commission would be paid to the broker at the close of the sale. Ben-Hamoo said he lined up Thor High Street Advisors to buy the East Cooper Avenue building. Weinglass said there was no agreement.
The two reached an out-of-court settlement and later reunited as friends.
Thor, meanwhile, in December unveiled plans that include expanding the building's ground and second floors and vacating approvals to build a top-floor penthouse. Those plans await approval from Aspen government.
— Rick Carroll
12. Aspen School District administration
The abrupt departure of Aspen High School Principal Kim Martin just weeks before the end of the year, along with a shuffle in the administrative ranks that left the curriculum director's position open, had parents and other community members concerned.
Superintendent John Maloy said there was "no backstory" and that Martin "felt it was time to pursue other interests" when she announced she was leaving her job. But at one point in June 2014, teachers in the Aspen Education Association gave Martin a vote of no confidence, which was quickly followed by an outpouring of pro-Martin support from parents and students. Tension between high school administrators and teachers bubbled up again when Mark Grice, assistant principal at the high school, changed a student's grade without first consulting a teacher.
Since longtime Principal Charlie Anastas stepped down in 2010, the high school has seen four principals — Art Abelmann, Dave Schmid, Martin and new principal Tharyn Mulberry.
Maloy told Aspen Journalism in May that Aspen is a community with high expectations and that four or five years is "above average" for many administrative positions.
— Aspen Journalism
13. No jail time in highway death
Details surrounding the highway death of an aspirational college student in August 2014 spilled into a Pitkin County courtroom in 2015, with a grieving Midwestern family seeking punishment for the culprit, Christine Tinner.
Tinner, who fell asleep while driving and crossed the centerline on Highway 133, killing driver Meleyna Kistner, 21, pleaded guilty in February to two misdemeanors: careless driving causing death and careless driving causing injury. A judge gave no jail time to Tinner, whose pleas for forgiveness were accepted by some of Kistner's relatives and friends.
Not all were as accepting.
At the sentencing hearing, Tinner gave individual flowers to friends and family. Kistner's stepmother threw them back at her.
"She's irrelevant in our life going forward," said Heather Kistner, who had previously said she suspected Tinner was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Police, however, did not test Tinner for any substances.
Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely also wrestled with finding a resolution to the case, expressing her plight during several hearings.
Fernandez-Ely ultimately fined Tinner $1,000 and sentenced her to five years of unsupervised probation and 360 hours of community service.
The judge also ordered Tinner to participate in a restorative-justice program and sit on the victim-impact panel for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, though lab tests showed she tested negative for alcohol after the crash.
Months after her sentencing, Tinner also agreed to pay $31,500 in restitution for travel expenses incurred by the victim's family to attend the hearings.
Kistner's boyfriend, driver Daniel Thul, was seriously injured in the crash. The two met in college in Indiana and were traveling across the West.
— Rick Carroll