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Outdoor dining continues in downtown Aspen this winter

A couple snuggles up to one another while walking down Mill Street in downtown Aspen in April 2021. Along the block is the outdoor space for La Creperie. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen City Council agreed Monday to continue allowing some private use in the public right of way as part of its COVID-19 economic response but what will be different this winter is businesses are going to have to pay for it.

After considering different fee options presented by Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, council landed on charging $0.59 a square foot in right-of-way space, which is predicated on three head-in parking spaces approximating 360 square feet.

That ends up being $6.98 a day, or $1,047 for an assumed 150 days of activation. It is based on the $100 a day that the city charges for a parking space for construction activity.

When unencumbered by construction or business activation, a parking space generates on average about $25 a day, according to Osur.

Existing structures taking up parking spaces, which are only three and include La Creperie, Meat and Cheese and Kemo Sabe, will be allowed to remain until May 1, and no new ones can be added to the downtown landscape.

In addition to the square footage fee, those existing businesses with outdoor structures will be subject to growth management and affordable housing mitigation fees and will be approved through an administrative temporary use review.

For those three businesses that have existing structures in parking spaces, the additional cost is around $5,000 depending on how much square footage their structures are and how long they will be activated in the public right-of-way.

“That’s a pretty screaming deal for these people,” Councilman John Doyle said. “I think why we are revisiting this is because COVID hasn’t gone away, and we didn’t want these people to take down the structures when they would have to rebuild them possibly again.”

Council also agreed to designate at no cost one parking space per block where a restaurant is located for pick up of takeout food.

If a restaurant wants its own dedicated space, it will have to pay the $0.59 per-square-foot fee, council decided.

Council members said it’s been difficult to enforce whether people park in dedicated takeout spaces for other reasons so it’s fair to offer one per block for multiple restaurants.

Currently there are 18 parking space dedicated for takeout, with most restaurants using two, according to Osur.

Staff had recommended that the city allow pick-up spots for restaurants that have seating for six people or less immediately adjacent to their businesses and charge a fee for bigger establishments.

“Our goal seems to be that we want to facilitate the ability for people to get to-go because of the pandemic we are in,” Mayor Torre said. “If that’s our goal, do we really need this charge?”

The use of parking spaces by restaurants and other businesses, such as bike rental shops and uncovered dining, will come to an end Oct. 31, council decided during Monday’s work session.

The use of sidewalks for business activation, like what Aspen Tap has been doing along Galena Street, also comes to an end Oct. 31.

If a restaurant seeks to activate on the pedestrian malls, they will pay the current $4.43 per-square-foot rate that establishments have been paying that use that right-of-way space.

Short-term retail operations will not be allowed on the street unless they are associated with a special event permit.

Temporary structures on private property, like Local Coffee House and Mezzaluna, can remain until May 1 and also will be subject to growth management and affordable housing mitigation, which will be approved through an administrative temporary use review.

All of the decisions that council made are part of the city’s vitality program, which was first instituted last summer when the local economy opened up with capacity restrictions. It was continued into the winter with variations and again this past summer.

The program was set to expire Oct. 31, and council had to pivot in the city’s activation strategies to level the playing field so all businesses are paying for the use of public space.

The changes will be formalized in a resolution that council is expected to approve in October, according to Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director.

“Also, it allows staff direction to work with the business community to respond to the changes through the regulatory landscape with respect to how we’re allowing businesses to navigate through the use of right of way,” he said.


John Grisham looks back

John Grisham got out of politics in 1990 after six years in the Mississippi state house, shortly after the publication of his first novel “A Time to Kill,” planning to focus on writing books and to leave public life behind.

Ironically, the novels — which became some of the most read in modern history, quickly defined the legal thriller genre and made Grisham one of the most famous writers on Earth — gave him a bigger public platform than he ever would have had in elected office.

He has used that platform judiciously over the past three decades, wary of sacrificing his work on the page for the allure of celebrity power.

“You have to be careful when you have a platform,” said Grisham, who will keynote the Aspen Words Book Ball at the Hotel Jerome on Tuesday. “You can’t turn a platform into a bully pulpit. You can’t assume that your readers always share your politics. You can’t succumb to the urge to preach all the time.”

That said, Grisham has been a prominent advocate for death row inmates, has campaigned to exonerate the wrongly convicted through the Innocence Project and has worked for related issues around mass incarceration. Many of his books, like 2019’s “The Guardians,” also have tackled these issues, and others like “The Appeal” have dug into wider legal corruption issues.

“If you read what I write with anti-death penalty stuff, wrongful convictions and mass incarceration issues I care about, it’s pretty obvious on what you know what sad street I’m on,” he said. “I just don’t like to wave a lot of flags.”

Grisham also often lends his celebrity to raise funds for charities and groups like Aspen Words.

These days, Grisham is writing two types of novels — the issue-driven ones and the entertainments, though both are compulsively readable.

His latest is an entry in the latter category, “The Judge’s List,” and will be published in October. It marks the return of Lacy Stotz, who was first featured in Grisham’s 2016 novel “The Whistler” investigating crooked judges in Florida. The new book finds her in pursuit of a judge who may be a serial killer.

It’s an old-fashioned thriller, a fun page-turner that brings back a smart, funny protagonist in Stotz who readers — and Grisham — like spending time with in a no-nonsense potboiler.

“I’ve written a number of pretty heavy books about issues and some wrongful convictions and issues that I do care about,” Grisham said. “And after I do a few of those in a row I tell myself, ‘Let’s take a break and just have a good old fashioned mystery and crime novel without some looming social justice issue that I want to expound on.’”

Grisham has no pretensions about writing both kinds of books for a wide readership.

“My wife is very good about saying, ‘Stop preaching for a while and just write a good old thriller,’ and that’s what this is,” he said. “The Lacy books are all about escapism and whodunit.”

Grisham has brought back just a handful of protagonists over the course of his career, the most popular among them Jake Briggance, the small-town Mississippi lawyer in “A Time to Kill.” Briggance remains Grisham’s most autobiographical character — returning in “Sycamore Row” (2013) and “A Time for Mercy” (2020) — and one of the few he’s been compelled to resurrect on the page.

“It’s rare I go back and think about a character,” Grisham said. “Most of my protagonists are dead or in jail or something like that, and I can’t go back. But Lacy I wanted to — I fell for her when I first wrote about her. She’s cool, smart, hip and frustrated, and I always wanted to go back to her again.”

Grisham has been publishing about a book a year for more than 30 years now — 28 of them have been No. 1 bestsellers and he’s sold an estimated 300 million copies — creating consistently satisfying and original stories of courtroom drama or more arcane areas of law.

Writing, generally, from 7 a.m. to about noon for five days of the week, always aiming to hit 1,000 words a day, he’s been able to maintain a remarkable consistency. For most of his career, Grisham has started a new legal thriller on New Year’s Day with a goal of finishing by July.

“That sounds like a crazy schedule, but it’s not,” he explained.

If he can move along at his steady 1,000-word daily clip, he’ll keep finishing a book a year.

“I can’t imagine not doing that,” he said. “It’s just a 35-year habit now. … I really have yet to find anything else to do during those early morning hours to keep me busy. There’s just nothing else.”

He has a list of book ideas and plots that he wants to get to, so he does not expect to slow down any time soon.

Grisham, 66, does spend a lot of time with his grandchildren, he said, and does often take writing breaks to travel with is wife, Renee, often building trips around book festival’s like this week’s Autumn Words literary festival and writers’ conference in Aspen. He is a relatively recent convert to the joys of mountain living. The Grishams spent a week in Aspen in summer 2014 and “just fell in love with the area,” returning regularly since then.

“We don’t do too well on snow, being from Mississippi,” he said. “But summertime is a delight, and we were taken with the scenery, the town and the lifestyle.”

While the quality and output of Grisham’s novels have been steady, what has not been consistent — and which few would have predicted — is the film adaptations of Grisham’s books.

In the ’90s, Grisham’s first seven novels were all adapted into movies that were major cultural events, with his books drawing the best and most popular actors and directors to make them. From Tom Cruise in Sydney Pollack’s adaptation of “The Firm” in 1993 through Robert Altman’s “The Gingerbread Man” in 1998, Grisham’s magnificent seven first books were fodder for some of the best and most popular blockbusters in Hollywood.

That run of films is still revered by critics and rewatched by audiences decades later (“The Firm” is among the movies tackled by the popular Ringer podcast “The Rewatchables”). But his books don’t get adapted anymore. None have made it to the screen since 2004, as Hollywood has largely given up on adult dramas and legal thrillers.

“I do miss it,” Grisham said of the adaptations. “They were all huge hits and life was crazy and fun and good. The movies sold even more books and it was easy. I’d finish a manuscript, my agent would take it to Hollywood and sell the rights and make the movie. And, boy, has that changed!”

Grisham estimated he currently has six or eight projects in development for his books to be adapted for film or television, but many have sat dormant for years. He has some hope of books making it to TV — as his nonfiction “The Innocent Man” did on Netflix in 2018 — but the days are over when he could expect to see a Joel Schumacher or Francis Ford Coppola make a lush cinematic version of his book with the best actors alive, simply because nobody makes those movies at all anymore.

“It’s all cartoons and ‘Spider-Man 10’ and stuff like that,” he said of the Hollywood landscape today.

And while that industry has changed, the popular novel itself also has shifted from the center of the culture. Novels have ceded the proverbial water cooler and cocktail party conversation terrain to serial television. That’s true even in Grisham’s circles, he noted.

The days are behind us when a new novel might be omnipresent in casual conversation and on beaches and commuter trains and planes and nightstands in the U.S. The next generation of emerging writers won’t have a titanic popular novelist like John Grisham among them, or if they do it will more likely be a social media content creator or a video game creative.

“We’re trending away from books and away from reading,” Grisham said. “And that worries me, though I’m not sure what I can do about that as one writer. … That’s the present. That’s the future. It’s not good for books, but that’s what we are.”

Grisham recalled his first true binge-watch of a TV show from a few years ago, getting hooked on “The West Wing” and watching all 107-plus episodes over three months — a nightly habit for he and Renee. But the experience motivated Grisham to create something that might be as compelling for a binge-read: “I kept thinking, as a writer, ‘I would love to be able to write something that is that smart, clever, plot-driven and character-driven.’”


John Colson: Burnout, not laziness, causes worker shortage

I heard an interesting tidbit on NPR the other day — it appears that Britain, like the U.S., is suffering from a severe shortage of workers in key industries. The story I heard focused on a shortage of drivers for trucks (they call them lorries over there) delivering fuel to customers, which has caused a fuel-shortage crisis at the gas pump throughout the United Kingdom.

My wife and I turned to each other and declared almost simultaneously, “It’s happening everywhere, not just here!”

We were referring, of course, to the fact that even in the Roaring Fork Valley, a shortage of workers has caused businesses to close their doors on certain days of the week, or even to shut down entirely until things improve — meaning, from the standard business perspective, until people decide it is time to get back to work and stop whining.

That unhappy fact hit us where it hurt — our empty stomachs, that is — just recently, when we stepped out for a rare night at a local drinking and dining establishment, only to find it was closed because of a lack of staff.

The NPR story got me to wondering, just what is going on here? How can it be that so many people are opting to not return to work, even though the conventional wisdom states in somewhat vague and often contradictory terms that it’s safe and OK to do so?

In reaction to the worker shortage in the U.K., by the way, an enterprising reporter asked the man who apparently will be Germany’s next chancellor, Olaf Scholz (he, if very narrowly, won the recent election to replace retiring Chancellor Angela Merkel) if Germany could help Britain weather the crisis, a question that brought laughs from the attending press gallery.

Scholz’s reply, maintaining that the labor shortage in Britain can be blamed on Brexit, also brought some laughs, though it’s likely the British journalist asking the question did not join in the hilarity.

Anyway, back to conventional wisdom, a report from the Reuters news agency cited the British transportation minister as saying, “It is now safe to return to work.” Period, end of discussion, at least for that particular bureaucrat.

But here in the U.S., things apparently are not so stark, and the pandemic is being blamed for the fact that a lot of jobs are going unfilled right now.

Right wing pundits and politicians, perhaps naturally, blame the workers themselves, claiming that so many people are collecting supposedly socialist-style government handouts (a.k.a. extended unemployment benefits and other wage assistance) that they feel no need to go back to work.

In other words, workers are lazy, and if they can scrape by on unemployment they will, of course, refuse to get back to work.

I don’t buy this simplistic argument, nor do many others.

For one thing, I have twice in my life resorted to unemployment insurance to keep my boat afloat during jobless periods, and I did not enjoy it or feel it somehow entitled me to loaf around endlessly.

No, as soon as possible I returned to work, both because I ended up with a healthier bank account and because I got bored just sitting around. I needed the social interaction of being on the job, in fact, perhaps more than the added weekly income.

So I believe that those who claim to hold the “U.S. workers are just lazy” point of view are actually parroting the corporate line of attack out of habit, or vindictiveness, or simple intellectual laziness on their own part.

My view is that this current “crisis” actually has been a long time in the making, in part because the U.S. corporate class has gradually made it much more difficult for a blue-collar worker to earn a living wage.

As is well known to most of us, even as the corporate class has slashed wages across the board, corporations and managers have gotten richer and richer off the difference between a living wage and the paltry and ever-shrinking amount paid to your average worker.

Then there is the argument that many working-class people, after spending years of suffering through low-wage jobs with high potential for injury, whether physical or mental health-wise, have simply burned out on the American “work ethic” and are looking for something better.

A recent New York Times opinion piece by Jonathan Malesic, headlined “Our Relationship To Work Is Broken,” makes that very argument — the U.S. corporate class has made it so difficult, so mind-numbing and so potentially injurious to work at so many different jobs that the workers are rebelling.

I’d like to think this is the case and that this rebellion will take on a political reality at some point, so that maybe we can remake this nation into a place where holding a job does not mean relinquishing your dignity, your self-worth, even your health.

If that does happen, all I can say is, it’s about time we started this national conversation, which clearly must be much broader, deeper and more challenging than can be outlined in one personal opinion column.

And any start is better than simply sticking with business as usual.

Email at jbcolson51@gmail.com.

Wheeler to require negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination

The majority of Aspen City Council on Monday walked back last week’s decision to only allow people into the Wheeler Opera House during performances if they can show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 and reject the flexibility of showing a negative test within 72 hours of entry.

Council agreed during Monday’s work session to follow the Wheeler Advisory Board recommendation that all people at the opera house have either a full COVID vaccination or negative 72-hour COVID test, as well as put in place a mask mandate in the city-owned facility.

When the mandate takes effect is unknown. A resolution is expected to be voted on by council during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Council was originally scheduled to pass the new mandate as an emergency ordinance this week but City Attorney Jim True said it is not necessary since the municipal government has authority to manage its facility as it sees fit.

The new policy affects individuals who are in the building for a performance or private rental, which includes staff, volunteers, attendees and performers.

There are 57 days until the end of the year that the Wheeler has performances and private rentals booked, with roughly 17 days of normal operations where the theater is empty and the visitors center and lobby box office are open to the public, according to Assistant City Manager Diane Foster.

City Manager Sara Ott noted last week during council’s deliberation that the federal government has not yet released the rules for the future vaccination and testing requirement for businesses who employ 100 or more people.

She also noted if a vaccination requirement was enacted for all Wheeler volunteers and staff, there could be operational impacts.

The Wheeler has 14 full-time staff and employs an additional 24 intermittent staff, according to Foster.

“For planning purposes, we should assume some of those 38 employees are unvaccinated,” Foster wrote in a memo to council. “The greatest impact to staff could be having job-related requirements different from other staff. While many departments have job-related safety requirements, if there is a Wheeler vaccination requirement, senior management anticipate some staff will object, quit, or the city would be forced to terminate employment. A vaccination or negative test requirement gives staff more flexibility.”

City Councilwoman Rachel Richards voiced concern about allowing unvaccinated people into the venue because they are a threat to public health.

“I realize I might well be a minority on this council and maybe in the public in general, but I’m kind of tired of suffering the tyranny of the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated are why I am wearing a mask every day again,” she said. “I’ve had to ask myself, and I know that this is a contrarian opinion, but I would rather have reduced services and reduced staff if folks are not taking this seriously.”

Reviewing the proof vaccination and test results, as well as administering those tests will be done by a third party so the city is not obtaining or retaining medical information of individuals, Ott said.

Council agreed to that stipulation, and Mayor Torre said he will contact some third party testing companies to see if they can provide onsite or near the venue rapid tests at an affordable price.

“This is another difficult discussion, and I think we were all hoping to be done with this, but we are not,” he said. “I guess the one thing we can say is this is a step in the direction of health and safety in the Wheeler Opera House.”


She Said, He Said: Continuous bickering, arguing is sign it’s time to clean out emotional spaces

Dear Lori and Jeff,

From the outside, it looks like my wife and I have an ideal marriage. Our friends and family often make comments about how lucky we are to still be best friends after nine years together. We truly love, respect and appreciate each other, but behind closed doors, we’re constantly short and irritable toward one another. When we met it was a whirlwind romance that swept us both up quickly and completely. We traveled all over the world together, abandoning the lives we were living for this amazing adventure. Now that we’re a little older, we’ve both felt the urge to slow down and settle down, but without all of the stimulation and distraction we’re just getting on each other’s nerves all the time. How do we actually have the relationship everyone thinks we have?

Signed, Is Our Adventure Over?

Dear IOAO,

Jeff and Lori: The love, respect and appreciation in your relationship has forged a strong foundation for your marriage. But, like many couples, you’ve become careless about what you’ve piled on top of it.

Lori: You’ve had an incredible chapter of life, both as individuals and as a couple. And now it’s time to begin writing the next one. You’ve transitioned to a steadier pace intuitively but not necessarily intentionally. Without thoughtfulness about what this next phase of life represents and how to align it with your values, you’re both left feeling more untethered. If you haven’t yet pinpointed the exact feelings swirling in your discontent, that’s the place to start.

When couples are deeply entwined (as any whirlwind-travel-the-world-together-for-years relationship would induce), partners tend to become lightning rods for each other’s emotional charges. They project unwanted and excess energy on one another. Partners often become complacent, falsely assuming the other will always be there and that showing up as your less-than-ideal-self time after time won’t have devastating consequences. Additionally, individuals often come to believe that their dissatisfaction is the fault of their mate. It’s much more convenient to place responsibility for unhappiness externally than it is to do the hard look within. And, when your partner is always there, front and center in your environment, they become the easy target for blame.

Jeff: In one of his comedy bits, Rodney Dangerfield reflected on his relationship: “We sleep in separate rooms, we have dinner apart, we take separate vacations — we’re doing everything we can to keep our marriage together.” All joking aside, it can be really good to miss your partner. Sometimes we need time apart to do the things that give us a sense of identity, value and worth (outside of the relationship) and then come back together and share the stories of our individual journeys, regardless of how small they might be — a short hike or night out with friends still counts.

Being together by default, without intention, can create a sense of resentment and staleness that can dull your connection. This dynamic has been particularly relevant during the pandemic, with couples being forced to spend a majority of their time together without many of the outlets for individual activities they once had. Be deliberate about both your time together and apart. Too much routine togetherness can make you take each other for granted and cause you to forget what you truly appreciate and value about one another.

Lori and Jeff: Being together through all of the ins and outs of daily life can easily lead to mutual irritability. Continuous bickering and arguing is a sign that it’s time to clean out the emotional spaces within and between you. Carve out intentional time to reconnect to your best self, clear out resentments, air out festering conflicts and put effort into building the relationship everyone thinks you have.

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.

Aspen’s unique community takes time to tell tales

Matthew Moseley reads an excerpt from his book, “Ignition: Superior Communication Strategies for Creating Stronger Connections,” at an event at the Fat City Gallery on Sept. 26, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Ostensibly, Sunday’s reading of Matthew Moseley’s latest book at Fat City Gallery was about communication: “Ignition: Superior Communication Strategies for Creating Stronger Connections” details the what, the why and the how of effective messaging from the perspective of the longtime professional strategist and consultant.

But really, it was about telling stories: tales, mostly, of Moseley’s work as communications director for Hunter S. Thompson’s funeral and of the community of changemakers still alive and well (and rather lively), many of them in attendance Sunday night.

“We are here for inspiration and communication,” said Aspen Mayor Torre, who has known Moseley for decades and introduced the author.

“What separates our brain from those of other species is our capacity to tell ourselves stories that give us the emotional cues for how to feel about something,” Torre read from a chapter of “Ignition” titled, fittingly, “Reason and Emotion in Stories.”

Connection, too, was a throughline in the conversation — and it really was more of a conversation than a reading, for all the anecdotes shared from a vocal audience that included friends of Moseley and Thompson including longtime Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and criminal defense attorney Gerry Goldstein.

“Right now we’re in one of the great paradoxes of our time, in that we are so interconnected that we can talk from Germany to Japan with a single click of a button, but people feel so isolated and alone,” Moseley said in the tee-up to his own reading of a selection from his book.

He spent more than half a decade trying to understand that paradox while writing “Ignition,” a process that he can trace back to a speech he gave on “Gonzo communication” at Burning Man about six years ago.

“It was about how you would put yourself in the story, and that you weren’t just a spectator in life, that you were a participant, and that we had a responsibility to sort of be involved in issues of the day and around us,” Moseley said.

Sunday night’s gathering hosted its fair share of what one might consider life’s participants: Braudis, Torre and Goldstein were among a cohort of artists, musicians and other thinkers and creatives who hang with the Fat City crew.

(To be fair, there were some spectators, too — onlookers who slowed to a crawl while driving or riding along Cooper Avenue to get a glimpse at the lively long-haired crew attending a rowdier gathering than the typical book reading might elicit.)

Moseley’s subsequent work on “Ignition” involved more than two dozen interviews with experts to inform the book, including talks with Goldstein. Moseley also drew on three decades of his experience “on the front-lines of pretty high-stakes communication battles” to share lessons learned.

Among those battles was an effort with Thompson to free Lisl Auman from prison for felony murder, which sparked Moseley’s first book, “Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson and the Last Gonzo Campaign.”

“One thing that I’ve really learned, all of that was that the best leaders, the best mayors, the best friends are people who could understand how to articulate a vision and where they wanted you to go, what they needed you to do to be successful,” Moseley said.

When it came to Thompson’s funeral — the subject of the excerpt Moseley read outside the gallery Sunday night — the vision went well beyond the idea of the event itself.

“It was a chance to frame the author’s unique legacy and contribution to American life — it was the opportunity to tell the story of one of the most interesting and original writers of the second half of the century,” Moseley read.

Fat City Gallery and its predecessor, the Gonzo Gallery, have served as one place for those stories to be told (and retold, and told anew) said Patty Bellfy, who has worked with the gallery “on and off” for years.

The current iteration will close Thursday — Sunday’s reading was just one of a slate of events as gallery owner DJ Watkins wraps up the summer season and prepares to spend more time on other creative endeavors — but it’s unlikely that it will be the last Aspen sees of the countercultural community.

And besides, Moseley said, “The art lives, and that’s the most important thing.”


Changing their stories: Basalt developers eliminate fourth floor of downtown building plan

The site plan of the proposed Basalt Center Circle building will remain similar in the revised plan. A fourth story will be eliminated and the footprint of the building will expand slightly.
Courtesy image

The developers proposing a project in downtown Basalt have eliminated a fourth floor and added affordable housing to their building in an effort to calm public opposition and earn Town Council support.

The Basalt Center Circle building, where Clark’s Market was once located, is now proposed at three rather than four floors, according to Tim Belinski, who is seeking approval for the project along with partner Andrew Light.

“That seems to be a really important part of the community input,” Belinski said Monday of the height. “That was really clear.”

The original project placed 70 apartments, including 11 with rent controls, in the four-story building. The revised proposal places 66 apartments, including 17 with rent controls, in three stories. That meets the town code requirement for a residential project to provide at least 25% of the units as affordable housing.

The developers avoid losing a large number of units despite reducing the size by building more studio apartments. That helps the project remain financially viable despite the loss of a floor, Belinski said. There will now be 46 studios or about two-thirds of the units. The footprint of the building also will expand out to the property boundaries, he said.

Belinski noted that the rules Basalt had laid out for the prime site in its latest master plan allowed for a four-story building. However, once the review started, the mass and scale were criticized by some members of the public and some council members.

The developers decided to switch rather than fight over the height. The developers also increased the amount of deed-restricted housing after council members expressed an interest in seeing more of the units preserved as affordable. A proposal to keep a 1.5% real estate transfer tax remains part of the plan, Belinski said. That would raise funds for the town’s affordable housing program if the apartment building ever changes hands.

The changes will be outlined for the Town Council as the review continues Tuesday evening at Basalt Town Hall.

A grocery store of about 9,000 square feet remains part of the plan on the ground floor. Belinski said the concept for that space also has evolved because of public input. The concept is to provide an indoor farmers’ market that showcases locally produced foods, he said. It would have the feel of a European market. The store space also would provide basic goods for downtown residents.

Belinski said the project retains its core purpose despite the refinements. It represents the redevelopment of a key, under-utilized space at the gateway to downtown and better utilizes a large parking site. He is hoping the changes get embraced.

“It’s one of those scenarios where the public process seems to be working nicely,” he said.

Numerous speakers turned out for a Sept. 14 hearing on the Basalt Center Circle project. Any members of the public who want to weigh in this week will have to be flexible and stay up late. The town scheduled the hearing at 8:05 p.m. — following another lengthy public hearing.


Aspen briefs: ‘Best Of’ nominations window closes Friday; Women’s Rights March set for Saturday; event set to help literacy nonprofit

Annual “Best Of …” nomination period closes Friday

Nominations for this year’s “Best of 2021 Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt” are into the final week with the nomination period ending Friday. So far, The Aspen Times has received more than 10,000 nominations.

The annual event organized by The Times tips a cap to the very best our area has to offer. The strength of our locals, businesses and organizations makes the community great, and we want to celebrate those who rise to the top.

Only the top 10 nominees in our 118 categories will move into the voting period. Once we have the nominations narrowed, the voting period is Monday to Oct.18, and the winners will be announced Dec. 3 when the “Best Of 2021” magazine hits newsstands.

To submit a nomination, go to aspentimes.com and click on the “Best Of 2021” icon.

Women’s Rights March set for Saturday in Aspen

As part of a national movement, a Women’s Right March is planned for Aspen starting at 11 a.m. Saturday at Paepcke Park.

The local event, which is being organized by Aspen High School student Oceane Jones, will happen on the same day as other marches throughout the nation, encompassing more than 90 organizations coming together to protect Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protects a women’s right to terminate a pregnancy by abortion.

The march, which is open to all ages and genders and is scheduled to go down Main Street, then onto Mill Street, through Wagner Park then back to Paepcke Park.

More information go to aspenforwomen.weebly.com.

Running event to help Literacy Outreach

The Glenwood Canyon Shuffle Race for Literacy is set for Saturday in Glenwood Canyon. The race benefits the local nonprofit Literacy Outreach, which works to combat illiteracy in our community.

There will be a 5-mile run, which will start and finish at No Name exit 119 (run west on the bike path toward Glenwood then back). The event is $30 and begins at 9 a.m. Racers should park at the race finish at No Name rest area and additional parking will be at the Glenwood Canyon Resort near the rest area.

Register online at Active.com.

What’s the Big Deal: $18.7 million enough for Red Butte home

1220 Red Butte Drive (Pitkin County Assessor’s Office)

What’s the Big Deal runs Mondays and is based on the prior week’s most expensive property transaction recorded in the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.

Price: $18.688 million

Date recorded: Sept. 20

Buyer: Haim Family Trust

Seller: AHN Aspen Holdings LLC

Address: 1220 Red Butte Drive

Neighborhood: Red Butte

Property type: Single-family residential

Year built: 1984; effective, 2008

Total heated area: 4,487 square feet

Lot size: ½ acre

Assessor’s office actual value: $8,273,600

Assessor’s office assessed value: $591,570

Property tax bill: $21,185.60

Source: Assessor’s Office and Clerk & Recorder’s Office, Pitkin County


Gents rally back against Raptors to win Aspen Ruggerfest in thrilling return

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club's Darren Barth, center, celebrates with champagne after the Gents beat the American Raptors to win Ruggerfest 53 on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, on Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Mark Gerrard didn’t come to Ruggerfest expecting to play all that much, but the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club was glad he saw the pitch as much as he did. The Australian rugby great, who retired from the professional game in 2018, was among the catalysts for the Gents on Sunday in their return to glory at their annual tournament.

“He was great for us. He was almost the difference today,” said Aspen rugby player Darren Barth. “Just his character and presence, the way he speaks to people and controls everything. Everyone just respects him. He’s a leader up front, so having a guy like that with so much experience to back on, it doesn’t hurt.”

The Gents needed all of it to overcome the American Raptors, a relatively new side based out of Denver’s Infinity Park, in the championship game Sunday afternoon at Wagner Park. Aspen overcame a halftime deficit to rally for a 44-36 win to claim the men’s open division of Ruggerfest 53, the Gents’ first win in their prestigious home affair since 2018.

Played about a week later than usual to allow for the delayed Food & Wine Classic this fall, Ruggerfest 2021 was essentially the last major event of the season for the town.

“The older you get, the more you actually enjoy the environment you are in and are more appreciative. I’m actually appreciative the Gentlemen of Aspen invited me to play rugby,” said Gerrard, who removed himself from the championship game late in the second half due to a bothersome hamstring. “I didn’t expect to play this much, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’ll be back here (next year) sitting on the other side of the fence having a cold beer.”

This past weekend marked Ruggerfest’s return to Aspen for the first time in two years after the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. Thousands of people lined Wagner Park throughout the four days of play, culminating in all five division finals being held in succession Sunday. Other division champions included Time Rugby (40s), the Virginia Cardinals (50s) and the KC Blues (55s), with the Warthogs taking the women’s division.

The finale came down to the Aspen Gents and the Raptors, a side of cross-over athletes — meaning, most of their athletes had played another sport other than rugby prior to joining their team — that had only been together a handful of weeks and therefore lacked the experience found on the Gents’ side.

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club beat the American Raptors to win Ruggerfest 53 on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, on Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Raptors had plenty of pure athletic talent, however, and that caused some problems for Aspen during the middle of their match.

“We actually started really well, but then the last 20 minutes of the first half we were a bit poor, and we let them get the lead on us,” said Aspen player and head coach Ben Mitchell. “But we made some good substitutions early in the second half and gained the momentum and managed to keep it for the rest of the game, which was really nice. It was great having the crowd on our side. I think that played a big part.”

For Mitchell, who has played professionally for Major League Rugby’s San Diego Legion the past few seasons, it was his second Ruggerfest championship, his first coming as a player in 2018. He took over as the Aspen club’s primary coach in the summer of 2019, with the Gents losing in the semifinals of Ruggerfest that year, so the 2021 title is his first in a coaching role.

This was the Gents’ 22nd championship at Ruggerfest, a tournament that dates back to the first in 1968, won by the Kansas City Blues. Aspen’s first title came in 1971 and the club didn’t win its home tournament again until 1985. The Gents dominated Ruggerfest in the 1990s and early 2000s but have only won three times (2015, 2018, 2021) dating back to its 2009 win.

The 2021 title was also the first for Aspen since the death of Jerry Hatem, the club’s former president who tragically died in a June 2019 snowmobiling accident.

“Everyone was in really good spirits. You couldn’t ask for anything better after a year off,” Mitchell said. “The result didn’t end how we wanted in 2019, but now to get the monkey off the back is pretty sweet honestly. It was quite a stressful weekend coaching and playing but really, really rewarding in the end.”

The men’s open division started Saturday, with Aspen winning both games during pool play — a 27-0 win over the Olympic Club and a 45-7 rout of the Queen City Pioneers. The Gents then beat the Dallas Harlequins later that day in the semifinals, 38-14.

The American Raptors lost their first game of pool play Saturday, falling 15-14 to the Olympic Club. But the side rallied back with a 62-0 win over Dallas and a 41-14 quarterfinal win over the Denver Waterdogs, the reorganized version of the Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits, who had dominated the tournament in recent years with titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019. The Raptors then got their revenge over the Olympic Club in the semifinals, winning 40-5.

Trailing to Aspen early in Sunday’s championship, the Raptors came back to lead 24-15 at halftime and held a two score lead well into the second half before the Gents took over the match.

“It feels good to be playing rugby on Sunday afternoon at Wagner Park. It’s a win that means everything to us,” said Barth, who now has a personal record of 2-2 in Ruggerfest finals. “It started good. Big credit to the American Raptors, who had some really big, physical, strong, fast guys, and they put us under pressure, and we got a little rattled. Then at halftime we took a big breath and settled in and said, ‘Guys, let’s play our own game, and let’s play the way we’ve trained to play,’ and pulled it all together in the end.”

The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club's Mark Gerrard, an Australian rugby icon, gets a hug after their match against the American Raptors in the final of Ruggerfest 53 on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, on Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Gerrard admitted after the final he only heard of Ruggerfest for the first time circa 2017 but had been captivated by the idea of coming to Aspen ever since. He had a 17-year professional rugby career, where he scored 523 points in 158 appearances in Super Rugby and Japan’s Top League. He represented his home nation of Australia 24 times on the international level and last summer was named an assistant coach for the Austin Gilgronis of Major League Rugby.

The Gents likely won’t get him to come out of retirement and play at Ruggerfest again, something that hamstring will appreciate, but Gerrard has every intention of returning as a spectator and views Aspen’s iconic tournament as nothing but a boon for the sport worldwide.

“The opportunity to come out to Aspen was always in the cards. It was just whether it would work or not. To be honest, I was only coming here to enjoy the weekend and have a look at some of the talent running around,” Gerrard laughed. “Coming here was a great opportunity to see rugby talent, to see where we could help with our organization. … If we can build those connections, those relationships, it would just create a better environment for rugby and hopefully it will get more recognition in the states to grow the game that way. And for me personally, it was just a great environment.”