Mountain Town News: Crested Butte’s anguish about housing imbalance
June 16, 2015
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Jim Schmidt has lived in Crested Butte since 1978, and during that time he has seen the housing crunch come and go. It's booming again, but this time the crunch feels different, says Schmidt, a member of the town council.
That's also the impression of Mark Reaman, longtime editor of the Crested Butte News. "It isn't just affecting the blue-collar ski bum/service worker types," he writes. "Professionals and their families are feeling the crunch. It is darn difficult for anyone to get a place."
Reaman's newspaper tells of a community meeting about affordable housing that drew more than 100 people. The town council, in the words of Reaman, "threw gallons of mud against the affordable housing wall" at the meeting. The list is long. Ideas include: "Glamping" (glamourous camping) at select spots in the town and provide access to temporary showers and bathrooms. Develop shipping containers into housing on the edge of town. Convert obsolete town buses into dorms.
Another idea is to set up a 1 percent local nonprofit, similar to the 1 percent for the Tetons of Jackson Hole, with local businesses volunteering to chip in 1 percent of profits to a fund dedicated to local housing.
Also floating around is the idea that the town needs to stop priming the tourism pump until it has the infrastructure, including workforce, to accommodate the business that already exists.
"Some of that mud will stick while some will rightfully slide to the ground," Reaman added. But he points out that it's not as if Crested Butte and other local jurisdictions have done nothing. Close to 25 percent of the permanent population now lives in deed-restricted affordable housing.
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More affordable housing is in the oven — a 30-unit rental complex called Anthracite Place will be ready next year, and $500,000 of infrastructure will be installed this summer in two full blocks to allow later construction of housing.
What's going on to create so much anguish?
Schmidt points to reduced housing available for long-term rentals. "We had a stock of housing from the old mining days that provided a lot of long-term housing. These were very basic houses and they have been fixed up and remodeled over the years," he explains.
Now, he says, many houses are being rented over the Internet to short-term visitors. "The VRBO phenomenon seems to be coming in like a tsunami. Just a couple of years ago, sales taxes collected from private houses and condos were about 35 percent of the total sales tax in the accommodations category and now they are 65 percent with the hotels also going up," Schmidt reports.
"Our biggest 'hotel' is all the houses in town," he adds.
Demand has also increased for workers, especially in summer. Crested Butte's summer economy in recent years has surpassed that of winter.
"We have always had a big Texas and Oklahoma influx of visitors and second-home owners, and despite the recent backing off of oil prices, those economies have been doing quite well," explains Schmidt. "Throw in the global warming factor heating up those states the last several summers (also stretching our summer weeks on both ends), Colorado and Crested Butte is a great alternative to frying in the sun. This summer promises to be even busier."
This provides jobs but not housing. "The wage-to-real estate price equation is 'waaay' out of whack right now," Reaman says.
Helping Idaho become Wyoming's bedroom
JACKSON, Wyo. – As residents of Jackson and Teton County talk about a possible sales tax increase to pay for affordable housing, Steve Duerr has a different idea. Writing in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Duerr, a real estate agent, proposes to revisit an old idea to bore a tunnel under Teton Pass.
The tunnel would dismantle the barrier between Wyoming's Teton County, where private land is scarce and real estate prices are sky-high, and Idaho's Teton County, where there's more private land, prices are less and, for that matter, there's just a lot less nightlife.
A good many workers in Jackson Hole already commute over Teton Pass, although it's steep and sometimes scary during winter. The drive from Victor and Driggs, the Idaho towns, to Jackson takes about 30 minutes in good weather.
Vail still chewing over terms of cannabis use
VAIL, Colo. – Aspen, Telluride and Crested Butte allowed sales of recreational marijuana as soon as it was legal, in January 2014. Vail, however, is taking its time.
The town council last week discussed their options at length, but postponed any decision. Town residents, by a wide margin, voted with a majority of voters in 2012 for legalization. But a town survey that includes only residents, visitors and vacation-home owners overwhelmingly showed opposition.
Councilman Greg Moffet was most clear in voicing support for ways to accommodate a desire to consume cannabis, "to provide the best possible guest experience."
"I am most concerned about creating an environment where a percentage of our guests — and we need to make peace with this fact — that a percentage of our guests want to consume this product," he said. " I think it is incumbent on us to not put our heads in the sand as to what is going on here. The status quo is broken."
"You are talking about marijuana clubs, where people can consume it," replied Mayor Andy Daly. Daly later added that "we do have a percentage of our guests—a small percentage—using marijuana here, but it is not a majority."
Daly also stressed the need to understand the issue of marijuana use from the perspective not only of national visitors, but also international visitors.
The method of consumption may be at issue. To the surprise of regulators and perhaps retailers themselves, upwards of 40 percent of the sale of THC-infused products has been in the form of edibles. Vaping — a form of ingestion that does not involve the familiar pungent smell of burning cannabis — has also become more popular.
David Chapin, a council member and a longtime restaurateur, noted reduced odor of cannabis in the last few years at his restaurant. But he also reported that guests sometimes have to be reminded that while consumption of cannabis in Colorado is now legal among those 21 and older, it is nowhere legal to consume in public.
Swill and swat: Whistler tops in both categories
WHISTLER, B.C. – Does this sound like any mountain town you know? In a survey of communities in British Columbia, Whistler ranks first in binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks at a time for men and, for women, at least four.
But Whistler also ranks as the most active community in the province. More than two-thirds engage in at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
"You've got a young, transient population in Whistler that is exercising more than the Vancouver coastal average, and after exercising, they're obviously having a few more beers than they should be," said Dr. Paul Martiquet, from Vancouver Coastal Health.
Whistler also ranked first in the sense of community belonging, at 82.3 percent, compared to 53.8 percent in Vancouver.
Taos hopes hotel will restore lost skier days
TAOS, N.M. – A 65-room hotel now under construction is at the center of efforts to draw visitors to the Taos Ski Valley. The ski area hit a high of 364,000 skier days in the mid-1990s but in the first decade of this century slipped to an average 224,000 skier days a year.
Gordon Briner, chief executive of Taos Ski Valley, says the hotel now under construction at the base of the ski area is the most important piece in regaining market share. The hotel is expected to be open by the end of 2016.
Briner tells the Taos News that the ski area has lost 100 lodging units or more since its heyday in the 1990s. "And even when we had all those beds, we felt we were short on beds."
Under the new ownership of Louis Bacon, a billionaire hedge fund manager, the strategy is to build a hotel instead of condos, even though a hotel is more expensive to build, more expensive to operate, and accrues revenues more slowly.
But, in the long run, a hotel provides a greater value for the ski area, Briner told the newspaper. He expects a 5 to 10 percent increase in skier days each winter.
The hotel, the Taos News explains, is the first step in the ski area operator's movement toward vertical integration. The ski resort wants to own everything from the rental shops to the lifts to the lodging. Last year, Bacon's corporation bought the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant on the mountain's backside.
Briner says the first target of new marketing will be to attempt to entice former visitors to return to Taos. Beyond that, Taos seeks to appeal to people with a sense of adventure. "If you've got a go-for-it, adventuresome spirit, even if you've never skied before, come to Taos," he explained.
New hotels moving forward in Aspen
ASPEN, Colo. – Development of new hotels has been moving forward in Aspen.
The Aspen Times reports that the city council has now approved the second of two hotels, called Base1 and Base2. Together, they will offer 81 rooms. The developer, Mark Hunt, plans to open the two hotels by the end of next year. Rooms are to be smaller than 200 square feet and rent for $200 per night.
By Aspen standards, that's affordable — something town leaders have said it is important to maintain. That affordability was one reason that the town council gave the developer a substantial allowance on mass, 15,000 square feet, or more than twice the normal limit for a lot that size.
But will the hotels stay relatively affordable? A former mayor, Mick Ireland, appeared as a citizen to ask for more than good-faith assurances. He didn't get his way.
A few blocks away, owners of the Boomerang Lodge plan to move forward on construction of a 47-unit condominium-hotel along with several other free-market residential units and two employee housing units. The approvals for the work were given in 2006, The Times explains, but the work was stalled by the Great Recession.
The existing lodge, which is closed and blighted, according to the Times, was built by an Austrian immigrant, with the first units open in 1956. This was early in Aspen's post-World War II renaissance as a ski resort. Charles Paterson, the immigrant, had studied at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin studio in Wisconsin.
Traveling the world but living in your childhood
ASPEN, Colo. – Garrison Keillor is always coming and going, and twice this summer he will be going to Aspen to perform. But for all that travel, he doesn't see much.
"I travel in a cocoon," the 72-year-old Keillor tells The Aspen Times, which reached him at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, between visits to Washington D.C. and Detroit. "I'm up in the airplane and I sit and write on a laptop. I go to a hotel and I write. I sit backstage and I write. So I've been everywhere, (but) I've not seen very much, and I'm still writing about a town that I knew when I was a teenager."
That semi-fictional Minnesota town so well known to listeners of his radio broadcast Prairie Home Companion is called Lake Wobegon.
"This is a very odd situation to find oneself in," Keillor told the Times. "But it seems to be the truth that what happened to me as a child and a teenager is more vivid to me than what happened in the last year."
Andrew Travers, the reporter for the Times, points out that Keillor has tried his hand at what seems every form of storytelling: essays in the New Yorker, 20-plus books ranging from short-story collections to criticism to poetry and now a screenplay. Plus, he's working on a new novel. And, of course, always working on the weekly rendition of Prairie Home Companion.
In one of his appearances in Aspen, Keillor will speak at a fundraiser for a writers' conference. Far more important than word-processors or the Internet to modern writers, he will tell them, is that writers no longer feel the need to drink heavily and use drugs.
But a few miles away at Woody Creek, the home of Hunter S. Thompson may be made into a museum and monument to the life of the late writer, who committed suicide in 2005. Presumably there will be mention of both the alcohol and drugs that Thompson used liberally.
More talk about need for a tax on carbon
CALGARY, Alberta – On Monday, at a meeting in mountainous country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced agreement among seven of the world's major nationals about the need to "decarbonize the global economy in the court of this century."
"Quite the thought," said the Globe and Mail, Canada's largest newspaper, which agreed with the sentiment. But how to get there?
"With new oil reserves being discovered and exploited, and the price falling, there is little incentive for companies and consumers to develop and use new, low-emissions technologies, or to change behaviour in ways that reduce carbon output," the newspaper said.
The answer? Carbon taxes, advised the Globe and Mail. In an editorial, the New York Times on Sunday had also counseled need for a carbon tax.
The carbon tax was in the news in Calgary, too, whose downtown is festooned with tall, gleaming buildings erected from the revenues from the oil sands of the Athabasca River several hours to the north. Oil industry leaders there — including those that develop the oil/tar sands — have come out in support of a carbon tax. The broader news, said the Globe and Mail, is that of a likely increase in Alberta's current $15-a-tonne levy for carbon emissions from major industries, a level seen as ineffectual.
All these newspapers and others cited British Columbia, which adopted a tax in 2008 on all carbon taxes and has elevated it since then to $30-a-tonne. The revenues are used to lower other taxes, what is called revenue neutrality.
In an essay published last year on the World Bank website, several economists and business executives argue that British Columbia illustrates that a carbon tax need not be feared. "Far from a 'job killer,' it is a world-leading example of how to tackle one of the greatest global challenges of our time: building an economy that will prosper in a carbon-constrained world."
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