Village Voices: Julie Ann Woods announces retirement, reflects on community development career in Snowmass
THIS MONTH’S TOWN TALK
For this month’s Town Talk, the Snowmass Sun did not have any question submissions but did have a question of its own arise.
After receiving an e-notification about the town looking to hire a Community Development Department director on June 18, we asked: is Julie Ann Woods, the current director, retiring?
Town officials confirmed she is, so the Sun sat down with Woods to learn more about her career as a town and city planner, her experiences directing the town’s Community Development department over the past six years, and what advice she has for the next person who fills the role. If you have a burning question or curiosity about anything and everything Snowmass Village, from business operations and government decision-making to COVID-19 response and economic recovery, please submit them to email@example.com to be featured in next month’s Town Talk. We’ll take your questions and report on the answers as best we can.
On a recent morning in Snowmass Base Village, Community Development Director Julie Ann Woods sat on a concrete bench outside of The Collective and looked around.
She pointed out that it wasn’t so long ago when there was no Collective building or Limelight hotel, just condos and the red barn building. She talked about what it was like to come into her current role right when the long awaited second phase of Base Village started up again after years of being stalled. And said seeing the nearly finished, usable area it is today is one of the greatest accomplishments of her career — one she’ll always keep with her as she heads into retirement this fall.
“One of the proudest moments of my career, I have to admit, was when we had the grand opening here because I was like, ‘Oh my god, it finally happened,’” Woods said. “But it’s time for somebody younger to step in with fresh ideas and lots of energy and who can think critically about how we continue to make this a really special community.”
For Woods, Snowmass Village will always be her home. She’s been a resident for more than 20 years, raised both of her kids here and plans to continue living in the village part-time after she finishes her six-year tenure as the town’s community development director this September.
When asked what drew Woods to community development, she referenced her upbringing in the Detroit area, where she witnessed the riots of 1967 and 1968 fueled by racial inequality and the impact they had on the city.
“I saw firsthand how a city basically went from a very healthy, thriving economic engine to just imploding on itself,” Woods said. “I thought I wanted to be an architect, but realized I could do more as a city planner and that city planning just gives a much bigger, broader perspective of all the moving parts that create the engine of a city.”
After realizing her desire to be a city planner, Woods attended the planning school at Michigan State University. She started out helping create things like bike master plans, worked on an environmental impact statement for a super highway in Chicago, and learned about historic preservation as a part of the planning process in Wheeling, a village near Chicago.
Woods then moved to Denver in the early 1980s with her husband, Jeff, to pursue a master’s in landscape architecture, and fell in love with Colorado. After a short stint in Vermont, she and her family moved back to The Centennial State and eventually found themselves in Aspen — her husband starting as the manager of the city’s parks and recreation department in 1997 and she as the deputy director of community development, soon transitioning into the director role.
“It was a great ride, I learned a lot, did a lot of fractional hotel kinds of projects, like the Hyatt, the Limelight was getting going, the Residences at Little Nell,” Woods said. “You know in Aspen they do great work and they have really high expectations, but it’s hard to keep up with the pace. It burns you out.”
After working more than seven years in Aspen, Woods phased out of government planning and into more private planning, working on ski resort projects like the base village in Mount Crested Butte and other developments in places like Telluride, Ridgway and Steamboat Springs.
When The Great Recession hit, Woods found herself moving back into a local government role, working first in Pueblo, then in Snowmass Village as community development director in 2014, where she’s been ever since.
“Once the job was offered to me I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m so thrilled to get to go back home,’” Woods said of being hired in Snowmass. “But I was also a little nervous because this was when we had a rebar sticking out of the parking garage and there was really nothing (in Base Village).”
But with the dedication and support of her community development staff, town officials and developers like East West Partners, Woods said she feels the town was able to come away with a Base Village area that has a lot of community-serving space.
“I think that it’s really worked the way that I envisioned it to work, so I am very proud of this project, but I really had the right team on my side and the right team to work with on the developer side to bring it to fruition,” Woods said.
“Was it easy? No, … but I’ve been here six years and we’ve got a lot done in six years. We had the right people and so I think the stars aligned a bit for Snowmass Village and I was really happy to be able to step in and help facilitate some of that.”
Outside of her work on the Base Village project, Woods said she’s enjoyed helping with the Snowmass Center redevelopment, which she sees as another important project for the town, and working alongside good thinkers like those on the current Town Council and with strong leaders like Town Manager Clint Kinney.
She also said she feels lucky to have had such hardworking community development staff, who she says are key in helping town officials and developers understand the town’s land use-code and in facilitating the planning of viable, value-driven village developments.
“We work with developers a lot behind the scenes and that’s where I think planners really show their value in a community because you don’t have to do all that in a public meeting, you can bring forward a project that actually has legs it can stand on,” Woods said.
Woods said she and Jeff — who celebrated his last day as the manager of Aspen’s parks and recreation department June 30 — have been planning on retiring this year for awhile now. She let Kinney know last year that her last day was coming and initially planned to make it through December until COVID-19 hit.
“We thought that with all of the COVID-19 stuff going on, it would be a good time to separate ourselves from what was going on because it’s going to be a whole new world out there,” Woods explained.
In retirement, the Woods plan to spend most of their time at their home in Pueblo but will still live part-time in Snowmass. The couple is looking forward to enjoying all the things Snowmass has to offer, and feels grateful for each of their opportunities to make a difference in the Aspen-Snowmass communities.
When asked what advice Woods would give to the next Snowmass community development director, she said she hopes they come in with ideas and the courage to share their thoughts no matter how out there they might be, and hopes they enjoy the opportunity to work in such a funky, unique town that values its small town community.
“Enjoy what you’re doing, don’t let it burn you out because there’s so much you can do that I feel I’ve done as a planner,” Woods said.
“We just have these building blocks in this community that were put in place by previous planners that made it much easier for these current planners, myself included, to figure out what needed to be done. … So I hope we just continue building on the great community aspects that we have here and that the new director helps the community be the best it can be.”
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“We’ve got all of these great things going on in (Base Village),” Andy Gunion, managing partner of East West Partners, said to council. “But it is not sustainable if we don’t get the rest of this village built and we’re not going to build it under a plan that makes no sense.”