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New big box to have a circular sod roof

ALLEN BESTspecial to the daily

AVON – Two big boxes, Home Depot and Wal-Mart Supercenter, are found along I-70 in Avon. Both are gussied up but remain big boxes typical of suburbia.But next door a new building called Traer Creek Plaza is very different indeed. For starters, it is not a box, but semi-circular. It will also have a sod roof. The sod roof will be planted with 17 species of sedum sod, plants that are more like a bean sprout than grass. Colors will change from rust brown to yellow, orange, and green before returning to brown in fall. A drip irrigation system is to be installed. Why sod? In addition to the changing colors, says Erik Peterson, a vice president for construction at Traer Creek, the sod roof prevents storm water from being polluted as it drains, decreases air conditioning costs, has a longer life than a conventional roof, creates habitat for insects, and increases oxygen. Even more unusual, the building has no interior columns, but will have what the Vail Daily likens to archers’ bows, creating a curved roof that is flexible, capable of moving in any direction. Peterson said the building is among the most unusual structures in the West. “I fully expect it to win awards,” he said.The developer is planning to seek certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program.Emerging islands of blue in the sea of redJACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The election of 2004 showed a remarkable voting trend across the Rocky Mountains. Virtually without exception, the ski towns and resort valleys voted for John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for U.S. president, making them islands of blue in the ocean of Republican red that defines the rural Rocky Mountain West.Some of these islands were by no means surprising. Aspen’s Pitkin County and Telluride’s San Miguel County have long been unshakably Democratic. Others began shifting in the 1990s. Vail’s Eagle County in 1992 ended its Republican habits by voting for Bill Clinton. So did Jackson Hole’s Teton County, which had been so stubbornly Republican that it had voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964.In 2004, a host of other traditionally Republican counties – Steamboat’s Routt County and Winter Park’s Grand County among them – also went Democratic.What is counterintuitive about this shift toward more liberal, more Democratic politicians is that the ski towns have become more wealthy places during this time. Instead of being driven by tourism, they have become amenity-rich lifestyle havens. We tend to think of higher incomes being more Republican, but that’s not the story here.Continuing to probe these changes is Jackson Hole’s Jonathan Schechter, who heads something called the Charture Institute. He further correlates Democratic voting trends and the real estate wealth that defines the resort valleys.From 1990 to 2004, the median value of homes in the United States rose $40,500, he reports. But in 10 upper-crust counties, he says, the median value increased by $162,000. Two of these counties were on the East Coast: New York City and Massachusetts’s Nantucket Island.The other eight counties, says Schechter, were all in the Rocky Mountains. Of them, five were in Colorado: Pitkin (Aspen/Snowmass); Eagle (Vail, Beaver Creek); San Miguel (Telluride), Summit (Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper); and Routt (Steamboat). Also in the top 10 were: Wyoming’s Teton County (Jackson Hole), and Utah’s Summit County (Park City). Just outside the top 10 was Idaho’s Blaine County (Ketchum/Sun Valley).Green building debuts in Park City bedroomHEBER CITY, Utah – So-called green building practices are, if still not commonplace, increasingly frequent in the ski towns and other outlying mountain towns in the West. A case in point is Heber City, a bedroom community for Park City.There, a new 12,000-square-foot office building uses several technologies and techniques to reduce the heating and lighting bill – and, as such, cause less air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.For example, explains The Park Record, a ground-source heat pump system was installed at an extra cost of $45,000 to $50,000; it draws on the earth’s temperature of 56 degrees to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer. The principle is much the same as that of a refrigerator. The building’s planners expect to recoup the up-front costs within five years as a result of lower utility bills.Passive solar is also in place. Windows will allow maximum solar in winter and minimal solar in summer. Interior lighting is sunlight-sensitive, so that the lights will dim and brighten as needed.A green building council is being planned to provide public education on green building. The Park City Home Builders Association is deeply involved in this, as are several governments.Second homes now are 12 percent of all national salesWASHINGTON D.C. – Are you under the impression that only ski towns and resort valleys have second-home owners? Think again.The National Association of Realtors reports that vacation properties accounted for 12 percent of all homes sold last year, and 28 percent of homes were bought for investment purposes.Typical vacation buyers last year were 52 years old, earned $82,800, and purchased a property that was a median of 197 miles from their primary homes. This profile differed from that of investment homebuyers in just one key respect: investment homes were likely to be close to the original home.USA Today explains that this rally in vacation and investment homes began in 1997, when Congress changed the tax code, allowing most homeowners to duck capital gains taxes when selling their homes. The exemption is $500,000 for married couples, $250,000 for singles, if it was their primary residence for two of the previous five years.Before, explains the newspaper, the only way to avoid the tax was to use the gained equity to buy another one of equal or greater value. But now, they can downsize and use the money instead to buy a second home.Something else is also going on. Many baby boomers are entering their peak earning years. The most active buyers of vacation and investment homes are people in their 50s. Currently, there are 36 million people in that age bracket. However, with 45 million people in their 40s, the market is expected to remain strong for a long time, says David Lereah, the chief economist for the Realtors.However, Lereah believes the vacation- and investment-home buying binge will drop to 30 percent or less of all home sales, as compared to the current 40 percent. He cites higher interest rates, higher lending standards, and slower price appreciation.


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