Tom Ross: Roaring Fork Valley foretells our future


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

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— There's nothing quite like a quick business trip to introduce a little perspective into the growing pains we're experiencing in Routt County.

Whether I pay a visit to Grand Junction, Buena Vista, Crested Butte, Carbondale or Eagle, I always come away reminded that Colorado's mountain towns exist in parallel universes. So often, mountain communities are wrestling with similar issues - all at the same time.

Just this week, my colleague John Russell and I made a lightning-fast business trip to Boulder and the historic mining town of Central City. Although neither community compares very directly to Steamboat Springs, we were able to make some interesting observations.

If vehicular traffic on Lincoln Avenue has frayed your nerves a little this summer, be glad you don't commute to Boulder for work.

From Boulder, we drove Colorado Highway 93 to Golden and up Clear Creek Canyon to the gambling towns of Blackhawk and Central City. Central City is blessed with an amazing number of architectural gems. Ironically enough, many of the small casinos in historic buildings have gone out of business. That is in spite of the fact that some of the tax revenues from the large corporate casinos are reinvested in historic preservation. It's a strange world.

Things are even stranger in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer.

For 15 years, I've been fond of pointing out that Aspen and the string of little towns that stretch downstream along the Roaring Fork River provide a glimpse of the Yampa Valley's future.

The news staff of The Aspen Times has done excellent reporting this summer on down-valley growth.

We begin with Scott Condon's article about the Aspen Skiing Company's $17 million purchase of a 62-unit apartment complex in El Jebel to provide employee housing.

If it were translated onto the Yampa Valley, El Jebel might be the equivalent of Milner on human growth hormone. Before you raise a toast to Aspen Skiing Co. for being proactive in securing worker housing, you might pause to consider that 100 people already living in the Sopris View Apartments will lose their homes within a year. Condon reports that some critics say "Skico" is addressing its housing crisis at the expense of the community at large.

Skico attorney Dave Bellack counters that if his company hadn't secured the building for worker housing, it would be targeted by developers seeking to turn the two-bedroom apartments into expensive condos.

So how much rent do the current residents pay?

"Rents are between $1,250 and $1,325 some of the lowest in the mid-valley," Condon wrote.

The Times' Carolyn Sackariason reported Aug. 14 that Aspen City Council voted 3-2 to shoot down a proposal to build an 80-room, 175,000-square-foot hotel where the Mine Dump Apartments sit at the base of Aspen Mountain.

City Council criticized the proposal for not offering enough community benefits.

Centurion Partners already was offering to house 138 employees. However, a principal in Centurion quickly upped the ante, proposing every Aspen resident would receive a 20 percent discount on food and beverage bills and spa services at the hotel.

It's difficult to believe Aspen's City Council stood firm when tempted by a 20 percent discount on mudpacks.

Finally, the Roaring Fork Valley brings us a story that could result in a Whole Foods grocery being built in Basalt. That's about the same as building a Whole Foods in Hayden.

Don't scoff. It could happen someday.

Reporter John Colson writes that the developer of the Willits residential project in Basalt is seeking to add 85,000 square feet to his development. He would boost the amount of affordable housing.

However, residents of the Willits neighborhood are objecting to any expansion plans.

Julie Pickrell told the Basalt Planning Commission that commuters bound for jobs in Aspen are detouring off congested Colorado Highway 82 to take a 40 mph spin through her neighborhood.

What does it all mean?

Try to imagine Hayden in 2017. Eastbound commuters from Craig on their way to work in Steamboat are detouring onto Washington Avenue. They pull into Whole Foods and grab a tray of sea urchin sushi and tofu soup for a mid-morning coffee break.

The neighbors complain that the lines at Whole Foods are too long.

That's everything you need to know about the future of the Yampa Valley.


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