Your Morning News - December 17th, 2014

Dec 17, 2014

Aspen Still Debating Mark Hunt Plans

Aspen planning officials could not come to an agreement last night about whether to recommend a possible new lodge. It's one of two similar lodges proposed by Chicago developer and Aspen transplant Mark Hunt.

The meeting was already a continuation of a discussion earlier this month. Last night, Hunt and planner Mitch Haas presented the proposal again: a three story lodge with rooms under 200 square feet, to fill Aspen’s affordable lodging gap. Called Base 1 it would Include a rooftop terrace and basement amenities like a bowling alley open to all. It would be located across from City Market and Hunt explains why he sees that as a good spot.

“We have our busiest retailer across the street. There’s a gym, there are offices, there are condominium buildings that actually operate like hotels. And yeah, there are residences there. But I think it’s a very eclectic part of Aspen.”

Of about a dozen public comments, the vast majority were in favor of the proposal. But concerns about design and requested exceptions led commissioners to hang up the towel for the evening. Stan Gibbs is Commission Vice Chair, and feels the building does not fit the commercial guidelines for the lot.

“There’s a lot of residential and affordable housing around there, and I think a big building has compatibility issues.”

Hunt and Haas did not comment afterwards, but were visibly frustrated during the meeting. Commissioners will take up the issue again at the beginning of January. A city planner at the meeting last night said the proposal would still be on track to go before City Council later next month. That’s when Council will also consider a similar lodge by Hunt, called Base 2.

RMI Partners with Richard Branson’s “Carbon War Room”

The Old Snowmass-based Rocky Mountain Institute announced a new partnership yesterday. It’s aligning with billionaire Richard Branson’s “Carbon War Room” to use market-based solutions to combat climate change.

For more than three decades RMI has worked with industry and business to transform energy use across sectors like transportation, buildings, industrial and electricity. RMI’s Amory Lovins says the organization will “capitalize on Carbon War Room’s ability to engage and excite corporate executives, entrepreneurs and investors to rally around innovative ideas and take action.”

RMI CEO Jules Kortenhorst will lead the new alliance, which is already working with six countries in the Caribbean to shift their energy systems from relying on fossil fuels to using renewable sources.

Aspen Airport Improvement Plan Approved

A plan to reconfigure the airfield at the Aspen Airport cleared its latest hurdle yesterday. The Board of Pitkin County Commissioners gave initial approval to an “Airport Layout Plan.”

The County will send the preferred plan to the Federal Aviation Administration which is requiring the airport to make safety improvements. Most of the commercial aircraft that serve the airport are being phased out and their replacements have longer wingspans making modifications like a wider runway a necessity.

To make room for the jets, county staff recommended a plan that proposes relocating a portion of Owl Creek Road and uses three acres of City Open Space. County Manager John Peacock says it meets FAA safety requirements and most citizens who weighed in, supported it.

“Based on that feedback, we believe “Alternative 8A,” both for the technical reasons and from the feedback we’ve received from the public is the best alternative to submit.”

The elected board had concerns. Commissioner Rob Ittner probed about acquiring open space to build-out the airfield.

“Without a vote from the City of Aspen neither of these options are possible.”

Peacock: “That’s correct.”

Ittner: “So, is there an option an option that the FAA might approve without going into City of Aspen land?”

If voters said “no,” the County and the FAA would look back on a slew of other “alternatives,” or options to reconfigure the airfield.

Another concern raised by community members and the commissioners is about the kind of aircraft flying into the airport. County Manager John Peacock says with the new reconfiguration it’s possible, but not likely, that larger jets like 737’s could fly in.

“We don’t know whether they have the operating capacity to fly here. Do they have the performance capability to fly here? And, would they meet what may be more stringent safety standards to operate here. We don’t know the answers to those questions yet.”

He says an environmental assessment will provide answers.

Ultimately, the commissioners backed the recommendation. Commissioner George Newman said the airport is one of the area’s most important economic assets and keeping it current is important.

“It’s not a 10k, it’s a marathon and we’re just at the start. But, what has been so valuable to me has been the process that’s been undertaken.”

The finished product is a long way off. Construction may not be complete until 2021.

The next step is a final vote from the commissioners and then the environmental assessment to study how it might impact the natural environment and the resort economy, among other things. The preferred alternative has a $132 million price tag. County officials say the FAA will pay the lion’s share.

New Aspen Airport Director On the Job

Monday was the first day of work for the new director of the Aspen Pitkin County Airport. John Kinney worked at airports in Arizona and California before coming to Aspen. Yesterday he introduced himself to the Board of County Commissioners.

“Just really excited to be here and looking forward to becoming an active member of the community and helping the staff operate a critical asset to the community and do it in the most safe manner possible.”

Prior to coming to Aspen, Kinney worked as the Director of Emergency Management for airports in Los Angeles.

Eagle County Sheriff Investigating Shooting Death

Law enforcement is investigating a shooting in the tiny town of Burns, north of Eagle. The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office responded to a private home Friday night, where the resident of a nearby apartment said an intruder tried to break in, so he shot the intruder. 32-year-old Brooks Hampton of Burns was found dead. No charges have been filed.

Rifle Area Crash Kills One

A 60-year-old Rifle woman was killed in a vehicle rollover crash yesterday. The Colorado State Patrol reports the accident happened on Interstate 70, east of Rifle. The Ford Ranger the woman was driving went off the road on a slight curve and crossed into the opposite lanes before rolling. The crash is under investigation.

Ski Area Owner Sentenced

There’s a resolution to an unusual case against a ski area owner in Colorado. A judge had sentenced the operator of Wolf Creek Ski Area for doing avalanche related work outside ski area boundaries. Owner and operator Davey Pitcher hired a commercial helicopter service to do avalanche and search and rescue training this spring. That was on Forest Service land in southwest Colorado. The Forest Service investigated and US Attorney’s office filed charges and Pitcher pleaded guilty. Jeff Dorschner is with the U.S. Attorney’s office and describes the sentence handed down in court yesterday.

“Five years of supervised probation, with 500 hours of community service. He is to spend that time working either for a sheriff or the Forest Service.”

There is also a $5,000 fine. The U.S. Attorney’s office says there have not been similar cases on Forest Service land in Colorado in recent memory.