Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mountain Town News


Vice president takes a breather at Snowmass

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo.—The ski towns of the Rocky Mountains continue to get folks from the White House. Former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, vacationed in Park City shortly after President Barack Obama was elected, and then first lady Michelle Obama vacationed this winter in Vail. Now, Vice President Joseph Biden took a short vacation at Snowmass Village. It was a working vacation, though, as he presided over a ceremony involving veterans.

Aspen gains, loses and grays in the last 10 years

ASPEN, Colo.—No other ski town in the West has been as aggressive as Aspen in trying to deliver affordable housing, to keep a critical percentage of the work force living within the town. But census numbers from the last decade seem to confirm what Aspen's city leaders have long said, namely that it's an uphill battle.

The larger story is that as longtime residents of Aspen retire, they are cashing out, selling their free-market housing acquired decades ago, when housing costs were much less, and moving elsewhere. In most cases, the housing is being purchased for second homes.

That's the theory of Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who points to new census data for support.

The U.S. Census found that the town grew 13 percent during the last decade, and now has 6,658 residents. It gained these new residents by building a major new affordable housing project at Burlingame Ranch and by annexing areas with a high concentration of worker housing, such as at the base of Aspen Highlands.

However, the census also found that 41 percent of housing was vacant, up from 33 percent the decade before. Ireland's analysis showed individual neighborhoods, including Red Mountain and the West End, gaining houses but losing residents.

The trend of the last decade will continue, perhaps even accelerate, as 58 percent of Aspen residents are between the ages of 55 and 69.

As reported in The Aspen Times, Ireland sees big implications from this baby-boomer bulge. If many sell their houses purchased at free-market prices decades ago and the houses are used for second homes, that will create more work for people who take care of the new second homes. But, at the same time, Aspen-and Snowmass Village—will have to import even more workers from down the valley.


"I don't expect the next decade will see a great deal of growth as the local population in the free-market housing continues to recede," Ireland said. "About a quarter of the population in free-market housing is nearing retirement age. As they retire and leave for warmer places, their successors are much less likely to be part of the local workforce."

Whitefish and Flathead Valley bulk up in 2000s

WHITEFISH, Mont.—The census has confirmed what most people already knew, namely that Whitefish got a lot of new residents in the last decade, a 26 percent gain. The new population of 6,357 makes it the 14th largest city in Montana. City Manager Chuck Stearns said he had expected the city to hit 7,500. Flathead County, which also includes Kalispell, grew 22 percent. It has a total population of nearly 91,000—larger even than Gallatin County, where Bozeman and Big Sky area are located.

Clean energy popular if it's located elsewhere

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo.—Breckenridge has held back on plans to install solar panels at two prominent locations, the local golf club and a venue called the Riverwalk Center often used for weddings.

The town, reports the Summit Daily News, will move forward with less-visible solar panel installations at nine other public buildings, including the community recreation center, the police station and the ice arena.

People who spoke out against the panels said the solar panels would damage the historic feel of the town, might impact property values of nearby homes, and would lock the town into technology that might change or improve in coming years.

As measured financially, however, the technology works well already. At the Riverwalk, 10 stand-alone panels standing 18 feet high would have been erected along the parking lot, producing 23 percent of the electricity consumed by the building and saving the town $6,700 in just the first year alone. The electrical bill would have been dented even more severely at the golf club.

As a majority of electricity in Colorado comes from burning coal, a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions, the solar panels help to reduce the town's carbon footprint. Breckenridge residents have mostly indicated their support of that goal.

Understandably, some council members were vexed.

"We want to be green as long as we don't have to see it," said Councilman Mike Dudick.

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