Mountain Town News: Real estate price sets new record in Aspen (column) |

Mountain Town News: Real estate price sets new record in Aspen (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

ASPEN, Colo. – An unfinished penthouse in downtown Aspen has sold for $5,427 per square foot, exceeding the previously most expensive residential sale there by more than $1,100 per square foot.

Dancing Bear Aspen never listed the penthouse property for sale, nor has it disclosed the buyer. That buyer acquired all eight fractional-ownership options of the nearly 3,000-square-foot, fourth-floor unit, according to Teddy Farrell, project manager and partner in Dancing Bear Aspen. The outdoor living space comprises another 3,500 square feet in a wraparound deck.

Joshua Saslove, a real estate broker who was not involved with this sale, told the Aspen Daily News that the price, if new to Aspen, is “not unusual in luxury properties in New York and internationally.” He said he and his firm have seen sales of $6,000 to $8,000 per square foot.

Andrew Ernemann of Sotheby’s International, said a demographic shift in recent years is one of the factors contributing to more demand for walkable downtown Aspen properties. Another reason is a more restrictive city land use code that has made residential real estate harder to develop or redevelop.

Woman in Sun Valley area dies at age of 111

KETCHUM, Idaho – Chrystal Leola Harper died earlier this month at the age of 111 in Bellevue, a town located 16 miles down-valley from the slopes of Sun Valley. She was, according to the New England Centenarian Study, the 14th-oldest woman in the United States.

She grew up 15 miles outside Bellevue when most ranch families did not have cars. As a young girl, the Idaho Mountain News says, she traveled to town twice a year, a full day’s journey each way. This was before the first airplane ride at Kitty Hawk.

Park City hopes for a meeting with Al Gore

PARK CITY, Utah – Park City officials have to pick their steps carefully through the political landscape of Utah. All of the state’s Congressional representatives are Republicans. And Al Gore, who will be in town in January for the premier of “An Inconvenient Sequel” at the Sundance Film Festival, is a Democrat.

Should city leaders actively seek a meeting with the former vice president to talk about climate change? It would seem like an easy decision, in that the city has already aligned itself with Gore’s Climate Reality Project. But a staff report also notes the potential for “tensions with Republican representatives.”

Elected officials are on record with worries that the warming climate will shorten ski season, producing winter rain in lieu of snow, with the snow line climbing higher on mountain slopes. They have specified goals of achieving net-zero carbon emissions for functions in the municipal government by 2020 and, more broadly through the community, by 2032.

Mayor Jack Thomas said recently that Gore is “more closely associated with the real science of climate change . . . He’s closer to the truth than anyone else.”

Leaving the door open when its’ cold outside

WHISTLER, B.C.– Can Whistler be serious about carbon reduction goals when so many of its merchants leave their doors wide open in the middle of winter?

That’s a question not just for Whistler, but a lot of towns and cities with lofty climate change goals. In Whistler, the question was asked most recently by Anne Townley in a letter to the mayor and council members.

“Walking through the Village this morning, I was surprised and very disappointed to see at least 90 percent of retail businesses had their doors wide open,” she said. “It was 6 degrees C (43 degrees F) outside and heat was pouring out the doors.”

Merchants leave their doors open in an effort to be welcoming. “But it seems a ‘Welcome, come in, but please close the door to save energy’ would go over well, too,” she said in a follow-up email to Pique Newsmagazine.

The newspaper did its own brief noon-hour survey, finding 10 doors wide open even as the temperature was -11 C (12 degrees F).

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said that instead of a regulatory stick, the municipality is “really just trying to convince people about the right thing to do.” It’s not clear, however, what the town is doing to try to persuade people.

The 2016 Community Energy and Climate Action Plan also recommends reducing use of patio heaters and outdoor gas fireplaces that are put on patios for restaurants and bars to create a welcoming atmosphere. Lumped into the same category are heated driveways, heated stairs, and so forth. The plan, however, does not say what efforts should be made to reduce these forms of outdoor heating.

Whistler’s communications department, in an e-mailed response to questions from Mountain Town News, said there are no plans to impose regulations, but there is interest in applying greater attention. That said, British Columbia limits the power of municipalities to directly regulate such energy.

Native of ski town named by Trump to head Interior

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Ryan Zinke, the nominee of President-elect Donald Trump to become the secretary of the Department of Interior, will — if confirmed by the U.S. Senate — be the first such secretary to hail from a ski town.

Zinke, a native and current resident of Whitefish, did not mention skiing when he announced he’d accept the nomination.

“As someone who grew up in a logging and rail town and hiking in Glacier National Park, I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve Montana and America as Secretary of Interior,” said Zinke.

“As inscribed in the stone archway of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Montana, I shall faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s belief that our treasured public lands are ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’”

Interior includes the National Park Service, the Fish and Game Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. The Forest Service is in a different federal agency, the Agriculture Department.

Newspapers in the Whitefish area reported mostly positive comments from various interests about Zinke’s politics, but the Flathead Beacon pointed to comments several years ago by Zinke that suggest an emphasis on “multiple use and not single use.”

“I think we have lost our way in a lot of ways,” Zinke, a former trainer of U.S. Navy SEALs, said in the 2015 interview. “We can mine and drill and still be responsible stewards of the land we cherish. Coal, oil, and natural gas are going to be part of our energy picture for a long time…”

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Zinke will replace Sally Jewell, who began her career in the oil fields of Oklahoma before eventually becoming chief executive of REI, the giant sporting goods retailer. Ken Salazar, who preceded Jewell as Interior secretary, hailed from a ranch in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, not far from the foot of Wolf Creek Pass and the eponymously named ski area.

Crazy Cousin Dick and realities of a small town

WHITEFISH, Mont. – “Whitefish, Mont., is a bucolic town that breeds travel clichés,” says Antonia Malchik in an essay published in the Los Angeles Times.

“It’s nestled in the mountains and around a lake. It’s full of skiers and kayakers, climbers and snowmobilers, depending on the season. A tourist town, a ski town, a town of picture-perfect views around every corner and Glacier National Park is just a half-hour’s drive away. Until recently, it was a quiet town too.”

Malchik then describes national TV attention to a part-time local resident who is a white supremacist. The news, or rumor, was that CNN had expected to find a town where Richard Spencer felt welcome, so the city council re-read an anti-discrimination statement at a packed meeting.

“The world may have just gotten a whiff of Spencer’s well-groomed hatemongering, but Whitefish has been well aware of him and his innocuously named white supremacist think tank, the National Policy Institute, for years,” Malchik writes. “While NPI’s mission statement uses bland positive language to declare its dedication to ‘the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent,’ the truth of its aims can be found in Spencer’s more blunt declaration at a recent Texas A&M talk: ‘America,’ he said, ‘belongs to white men.’”

So what does a small city like Whitefish do with what she likens to a crazy distant cousin?

“Let’s call him Cousin Dick. Everyone knows that Cousin Dick has a screw loose. He gets together with his conspiracy theory buddies and shoots the breeze. Whenever you and your family remember that he exists, you breathe a sigh of relief that his loose screws haven’t yet caused anyone real harm.”

Suddenly, the word gets out and the national media show up. Then, Cousin Dick has a platform for his warped worldview.

But Whitefish, after the anti-discrimination ordinance was read, had to move back to the mundane matters — stormwater drainage solutions, dedicated parkland for a new subdivision, and so forth.

“National media stories focus on the divides in our country, of the chasms between liberals and conservatives, rural people and urban. But every community, whether it’s vast Los Angeles or itty-bitty Whitefish, has the capacity to find common ground in the everyday nuts and bolts of making society function. And when we find commonality in those places, we begin to find it elsewhere, too,” she says.

How Jackson Hole will fare in the Trump era

JACKSON, Wyo. – What will the Trump presidency mean for ski towns and mountain resort valleys? Studying that question from the perspective of Jackson Hole, economist Jonathan Schechter finds a shelter in the storm.

“As long as the brave new order doesn’t wreak great and immediate havoc on our national parks and forests, we should be at least somewhat sheltered from the likely large budget cuts that will be implemented in order to offset the tax cuts,” he says.

“Similarly, because we are younger, healthier and whiter than the national average, we will not be hurt as much by the inevitable cuts to health care and social services, restrictions on voting rights and the like.”

But income inequality will be a problem. Teton County, i.e. Jackson Hole, already has the greatest income inequality of any county in the United States, he points out. In 2014, 11 percent of households made 84 percent of the total income.

Tax cuts promised by Trump and Republicans will create more wealthy people. “It seems certain those cuts will disproportionately benefit those who are well-off and earn large amounts thorough investments,” Schechter writes.

But Trump and the Republican Congress will likely cut social services, health care, and other areas where those benefitting can’t afford high-powered lobbyists, he says.

Can philanthropy fill the gap? “On a percentage basis, the amount given by Teton County’s wealthy residents is very high,” Schechter writes.

Rather, he sees opportunities for Republicans to increase incentives for charitable giving. Also, provide incentives for pollution reduction instead of environmental regulations. He does not, however, provide specifics about what these incentives might look like.

How Jasper will deal with summer visitors

JASPER, Alberta – As with other gateway towns to Canada’s national parks, Jasper is trying to prepare for the expected crush of people next year, when park visits will be free to mark the 150th anniversary of the parks.

The challenge described by municipal officials in Jasper is how to close the door when the house fills without removing the welcome mat.

“There’s going to be a point when we’ll have to tell people that the park is full, without deterring them from wanting to come back to Jasper,” Christine Nadon, communications manager for the municipality of Jasper, told the Jasper Fitzhugh.

“What we’re concerned about are the people who show up here without a hotel or a campsite booked, and once they realize everything is full, end up parking in a municipal lot and camping illegally,” she said.

Jasper doesn’t expect to have the busyness of Banff. There, 24,000 vehicles pass through the gates daily in July and August. But many Banff visits are from Calgary, just an hour away. The closest metropolitan area to Jasper is Edmonton, four hours away.

“If someone drives the four hours from Edmonton then they’re probably not just staying for the day, which is why we’re really focused on illegal camping,” Nadon told the Fitzhugh.

New and bigger hostel in works for Jasper

JASPER, Alberta – A new and much bigger hostel may be in the works for Jasper. Hostelling International plans to construct a two-story building with space for a maximum of 154 people but also buildings for staff and other operations. The organization has five hostels, but they’re all in wilderness areas. This would be within the town.

Canadian towns study options for marijuana

JASPER, Alberta – Town authorities in Jasper have begun reviewing their options for local regulation of cannabis sales should the federal government in Canada legalize recreational use in 2017.

A task force has recommended that Canadian adults over the age of 18 should be able to carry up to 30 grams of marijuana for recreational purposes and grow up to four plants in their homes.

The impact of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana on Jasper is far from certain, the Fitzhugh reports. It points out that Parks Canada has authority over land use and development within the town. But the municipality thinks it might have a say-so about where within the municipality cannabis can be sold.

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