The notoriously poor cellphone coverage along Highway 9 between Silverthorne and the Green Mountain Reservoir could soon improve.
The Lower Blue Planning Commission is scheduled for Feb. 7 to take up a new cellphone tower at 3175 Johnson Road, on a hillside above the Blue River Campground off of Highway 9, after receiving an application from a company that wants to build one up there.
"This is long overdue," said Jonathan Knopf, executive director of the Friends of the Lower Blue River conservation group. "This is such an important development for Summit County, I can't even begin to tell you."
Maps showing cellphone coverage — or a lack thereof — speak for themselves, said Joe Oliver, site acquisition manager for Nexius Solutions, which is working as a consultant for AT&T on the project.
"We got a big gray area and nobody's getting service there," he said.
The tower is slated for a parcel of land about 6 miles north Silverthorne town limits, in an area where no other cellphone towers currently exist. For the Friends group, it's been a long-standing initiative to improve coverage in the area known as a "black hole" for cellphones and this comes as "terrific" news.
"There are so many things that can go bad there, so many thing that can go wrong," Knopf said before mentioning wildfires, traffic wrecks and heart attacks as just a few examples. "Having better coverage in the Lower Blue River Valley will address these concerns."
The tower will carry AT&T signals, but it's being designed to house the equipment for up to three more service providers and 36 additional antennas. Oliver said he doesn't know if other carriers will decide if co-locating on the tower is beneficial for them, but he hopes to have more carriers than just AT&T on the new tower once it's built.
The permit application details an 85-foot "monopine" tower, which is one way of saying it will look like a pine tree. The height will be on par with nearby trees, which Oliver estimated at roughly 40-70 feet tall, and come with some small support buildings and equipment, neither of which should be visible from the highway.
"You're not going to notice it from Highway 9 for sure, unless you're really looking for it," Oliver said of the tower.
According to the application, the neighbor most affected by the proposed tower has offered his consent for the project in addition to the support coming from the Friends of the Lower Blue River.
Because there's local support for it and because the project should bolster coverage in an area where "No Service" signals have led to safety concerns, Oliver is expecting few hiccups going through the approval process.
In fact, an identical cellphone tower got the county's approval in 2013, but it was never built and approval expired in 2015. Oliver said he doesn't know why the original plan was abandoned.
"I didn't have the project back then so I can only venture to guess," he said, adding it was probably a business decision on AT&T's part.
Because the project meets the county's planning goals, runs in compliance with zoning regulations and comes with little to no impacts on the surrounding landscape, county staff has recommended approving the permit application.
Oliver said AT&T is targeting the end of the year, but they could get the new tower up and running as early as sometime this summer.
The planning commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 at Silverthorne Town Hall, 601 Center Circle. The commissioners will have final approval on the project, unless the their decision is appealed, in which case the appeal will go to the Summit Board of County Commissioners.
Beyond the proposed tower north of Silverthorne, Oliver referenced a couple other efforts in the county that could bolster cellphone coverage as well. He said a new tower at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park should be operational soon, and he's trying to scope out a potential location for a new rooftop tower somewhere in the Lake Dillon area.
HB19-1092 would give judges discretion to prohibit adults and juveniles convicted of misdemeanor animal abuse from “owning, possessing, caring for, or residing with an animal of any kind.”
People convicted of animal abuse could be banned from owning, babysitting or living with an animal if a Denver Democrat's bill becomes state law.
Judges would also get the option to include therapy or anger management classes as part of a sentence.
"I think the real important piece of this legislation is the component that deals with judges being able to sentence folks to anger management or mental health treatment," Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver, said."There's a correlation between people who commit acts of violence against animals and those same people committing acts of violence against people."
HB19-1092 would give judges the discretion to prohibit adults and juveniles convicted of misdemeanor animal abuse from "owning, possessing, caring for, or residing with an animal of any kind" for a certain number of years. The ban would be mandatory for people convicted of felony animal abuse.
Valdez, a first-year lawmaker, modeled the bill after a California law that bans pet ownership for five years after a misdemeanor conviction and 10 years for a felony. But he said he got some pushback from members of the House Judiciary Committee where the bill is scheduled for its first hearing Thursday. He plans to change it during that hearing to give judges more leeway when it comes to sentencing.
Freddie Mac: Mortgage rates hold steady for third consecutive week.
Mortgage rates held their ground for the third week in a row, according to the latest Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey.
According to the survey, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.45% for the week ending Jan. 24, 2019, remaining unchanged fromlast week’spercentage. Once again, this is still a significant increase from last year’s rate of 4.15%.
“Mortgage rates have stabilized during the last month and are essentially at the same level as last spring – yet the most recenthome salesare roughly half a million lower over the same period,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater said. “Given that theeconomyremains on solid footing and weekly mortgagepurchase applicationactivity has been strong so far in 2019, we expect the decline in home sales to moderate or even reverse over the next couple of months.”
The 15-year FRM averaged 3.88% this week, holding steady from last week’s average. Notably, this time last year, the 15-year FRM was 3.62%.
Sen. Michael Bennet and 2nd District Congressman Joe Neguse unveiled Friday the most sweeping public lands legislation for Colorado in nearly three decades.
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act combines four different previously introduced public lands bills into a single mammoth package that will seek to protect over 400,000 acres of public land for conservation and recreation. Of the land protected, 73,000 acres will be specifically devoted for new wilderness areas, as well as over 80,000 acres for outdoor recreational use.
The CORE Act is an amalgamation of the Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act; the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act; the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act and the Curecanti National Recreation Area Boundary Establishment Act.
The Continental Divide, Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act will have the biggest impact for Summit and Eagle counties. That specific bill, which had languished in Congress on its own, will permanently protect over 100,000 acres of the White River National Forest. It will create three new wilderness areas of over 21,000 acres in the Tenmile Range, Hoosier Ridge and Williams Fork Mountains, as well as expand the Eagles Nest, Ptarmigan Peak and Holy Cross wilderness areas by over 20,000 acres.
The Camp Hale Legacy portion of the act will also create the nation's first-ever National Historic Landscape. The designation will permanently protect nearly 29,000 acres at Camp Hale, the historic birthplace of the 10th Mountain Division between Red Cliff and Leadville, for its natural, historic and cultural legacy.
The act also creates two new wildlife conservation areas of nearly 12,000 acres. The Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area would protect Colorado's only migration corridor over I-70 for elk, bear, mule deer and other wildlife. The Williams Fork Wildlife Conservation Area would enhance wildlife habitat for the greater sage-grouse and other species.
"Because of this inclusive approach, the CORE Act creates new wilderness areas and preserves outdoor recreation opportunities, so Coloradans can continue to explore the outdoors," Bennet said in a press release. "Colorado has waited too long for Congress to act on their earlier proposals, but the CORE Act presents a new opportunity to make real progress for our state."
"In Colorado's 2nd Congressional District, we see first-hand that the health of our environment directly relates to the health of our citizens and the health of our economy," Neguse said. "I'm excited to introduce a robust public lands package that includes important provisions for Summit and Eagle Counties, Minturn, Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Vail and ensures that here in the 2nd District we can continue to enjoy and benefit from our public lands."
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, who was among the many regional stakeholders who provided input for the CORE Act, lauded the bill.
"Summit County is very excited for the new CORE Act," Stiegelmeier said. "We thank Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse for their leadership in this new effort to protect our public lands. We have waited too long for these public lands bills to pass and we urge the rest of Colorado's congressional delegation to get behind this important legislation that will safeguard our public lands in a balanced way."
The CORE Act's introduction was also lauded by state conservation groups.
"Coloradans love our lands and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse have put together, protecting some of Colorado's most popular, iconic and historic public lands in a way that is widely supported by locals," said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado.
"This legislation would protect some of the best that Colorado's public lands have to offer, including pristine watersheds and key wildlife habitat along the Continental Divide, three popular fourteeners and the rugged mountains and ranching heritage of the Thompson Divide," said Jim Ramey, Colorado state director of the Wilderness Society.
"Colorado hunters, anglers and recreationists have long understood the need to proactively conserve those intact tracts of wildlife habitat and fisheries that sustain our longstanding outdoor traditions," said Tim Brass, state policy and field operations director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The CORE Act will be formally introduced in Congress by Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse on Monday.
The annual Dew Tour snowboarding and freeskiing event may not return to Breckenridge Ski Resort in December.
Dew Tour spokeswoman Melissa Gullotti said in an email on Thursday that Dew Tour is currently in active discussions with several resorts about the future location of the event.
Dew Tour's previous contract with Breckenridge Ski Resort concluded with last month's event. It was the 11th consecutive year Dew Tour competitions took place in Breckenridge.
"While our current contract expired with last month's event," Breckenridge Ski Resort spokeswoman Sara Lococo said in an email on Thursday, "Vail Resorts, TEN and PepsiCo are currently working on negotiations for the future."
Though the ski resort and Dew Tour are putting out official statements leaving the door open for a return to Breckenridge in December, documentation and information shared with the Breckenridge Tourism Office and the Breckenridge Town Council's events committee suggests its more of a long shot.
On Thursday, Sandy Metzger, the Breckenridge Tourism Office's events director, said the ski area said at a recent town of Breckenridge events committee meeting that Dew Tour most likely won't be coming back in December.
That notion is supported by the tourism office's 2019 Business/Marketing Plan that it shared with the Breckenridge Town Council for a Jan. 8 work session. In that 2019 plan, the tourism office details as a primary goal to "fill the Dew Tour gap in December 2019."
Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula said on Thursday the council has spoken with the tourism office about looking into potential event ideas to replace Dew Tour during the annual mid-December, weeklong slot it occupied before the holidays. Mamula described that week in December as one that used to be a relatively slow week annually, in terms of business and revenue for the town. The mayor said Dew Tour changed that, particularly over the weekend portion of the event.
Mamula said he thinks the town's next step is to find some sort of alternative, though he said he doesn't know what that alternative is.
In the plan, the tourism office mentioned the possibility of "elevating" the Lighting of Breckenridge and the annual Race of the Santas. The possibility of moving Ullr Fest into December was also noted.
"It would be nice to have something that we could have to energize that week," Mamula said. "And whether that's fireworks or a parade or another event similar to Ullr — or maybe you move one of the events. We are sort of leaving that up to the (tourism office) and the events committee to come up with something."
In early years, after the Winter Dew Tour was launched in 2008, Breckenridge Ski Resort was one of several hosts along a multiweekend touring event held at different sites. In more recent years, Breckenridge Ski Resort served as the official and total host of a singular annual Winter Dew Tour event.
After multiple rate hikes brought volatility into the housing market, 2019 should see things stabilize as the pace of rate increases slows, according to researchers atFannie Mae.
In its 2019Economic and Housing Outlook, Fannie’s Strategic Research Group said itcontinues to predicta slowdown in economic growth in the year ahead, projecting a 2.2% decline in growth that it attributes mostly to decreased consumer spending.
“dovish” stanceon rate hikes in 2019 will help stabilize home sales. They predict only one rate hike in the year ahead.
Considering these projections, the group defined its theme for 2019: “The economy’s slowing, the Fed slows, housing plateaus.”
Researchers said they expect mortgage rates to change little in the year ahead, continuing to hover in the 4.5% range, which they said will allow homebuyers to adjust to the new rate environment after last year’s volatility.
Combined with a projected slower pace of home price appreciation, stable rates should “support affordability and buyer confidence,” the researchers said.
“We expect single-family starts to grow modestly in 2019 as home buying firms. Although labor shortages will likely continue to frustrate builders, lower interest rates should help contain their borrowing costs,” the report stated.
It also noted that while multifamily construction is expected to slow in 2019, strong labor market conditions and Millennials will support to the sector.
In terms of refinance activity, the group said that while it increased its projections for refinance originations to $10 billion in 2019 and $6 billion in 2020, it predicts refinance volume will decline over the next two years.
Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan said the path to economic growth in the year ahead faces more downside risks than upsides. Tight global conditions and the fading impact of fiscal policy has led to a prediction of moderate economic growth in the next couple of years, Duncan added.
“The Fed’s continued efforts to unwind expansionary monetary policies implemented during the recession have the potential to add to the headwinds facing the economy,” Duncan said. “However, we believe that contained price pressures should afford the Fed sufficient latitude to slow or pause rate hikes this year. This will allow the economy to continue growing, albeit at a slower pace, and housing to regain its footing.”
Major upgrades are coming to the Frisco Bay Marina this year after the town council passed an ordinance authorizing the issuance of up to $6 million in bonds at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
On Feb. 6, the town will begin selling Marina Enterprise Revenue Bonds — somewhat different from typical municipal bond issuances, in that they're backed by the revenue generated from the marina. The bonds will fund a number of projects outlined in the Frisco Marina Park Master Plan that was adopted last year. The ordinance passed in a split vote of 5-1, with Deborah Shaner standing alone as the dissenting party. Councilwoman Melissa Sherburne was absent for the vote.
The bond sales will fund marina projects over the next two years, namely grading for the Big Dig, an up to 75,000-cubic-yard excavation of the marina's lake bed to improve navigation and expand recreational facilities at the marina. Other expenses include site preparation and new infrastructure for the dig. The money will also go to a new $2.5 million office set to be built in 2020, new parking areas and paths, slip improvements and more. The town is targeting $5.6 million in bond sales, a major dent in the almost $8 million in improvements scheduled through 2020.
The bonds are available to anyone, but the town is hoping to attract locals to the investment opportunity.
"We're hoping that there's a lot of local interest in these bonds," said Frisco's finance director Bonnie Moinet. "We did the Marina Master Plan last year, and we had a lot of community involvement in that. So we hope those people are invested in this project."
The bonds will be sold in $25,000 denominations through Feb. 26. Of note, the bonds are not rated, in large part due to the unique nature of Marina Enterprise Revenue Bonds (which are relatively scarce on the market). Interest rates and the payment schedule for the bonds haven't yet been set in stone, but the current plan is for the town to pay back interest only, about $360,000 a year, for the first two years before ramping up into principal payments on top of interest (up to 6 percent a year) in year three. The current payment schedule has the town paying off bonds through 2048, though Moinet noted the town could potentially utilize a "call feature" after seven years to restructure payments.
Moinet said that the ascending payment plan will help the town build reserves, and assure that its able to make payments over the coming years.
"There are many safeguards in place to make sure the town is able to make its payments," said Moinet. "We have a debt service reserve account funded out of the bond proceeds, and a surplus account we'll fund from additional revenues from the marina over the years." Moinet continued to say that of the $5.6 million being borrowed, about $500,000 will go into the reserve account.
Moinet also said that the upgrades to the marina should begin showing significant increases to the marina's revenue as early as 2021, with potentially a small dip in revenues over the next two years due to construction. Most notably, Moinet said she expects a 25-percent jump in slip revenue, spurred by increased capacity along with improvements to the slips such as Wi-Fi and power utilities. Additionally, the town expects rental numbers for kayaks, canoes and other watercraft to jump considerably. Currently, the marina brings in about $1.5 million in revenue each year, compared with about $900,000 in expenses.
"Because of the revenues generated currently, and as we've seen this amenity grow, we feel it can support that debt payment over a long period of time," said Moinet. "These projects are also worthy because they'll generate additional revenues, and new amenities we want."
But the project isn't without some risk. The funds raised through bond sales won't be enough to complete the Marina Master Plan, meaning in 2020 the town may be on the prowl for more money. However, this isn't necessarily the case. Moinet said that the town would analyze the revenues and impact of the improvements, and it could be possible to afford more upgrades by using existing revenue streams. Otherwise, projects related to the marina may be deferred or may include additional borrowing.
With an investment expected to last for almost 30 years, Councilwoman Jessica Burley also raised concerns about the potential effects of climate change on the amenity, though it's a consideration already intertwined with planned improvements.
"There's always a possibility of long-term drought conditions," said Moinet. "We think our staff is capable of mitigating those conditions that may decrease our revenues. One of the main purposes of the project is to deepen the bay, and with more slips and rentals, we'll be able to operate during a normal season probably 30 days longer. Making the bay deeper will mean we can open earlier, and droughts won't have the same impact that they do now."
Also of concern is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn't issued a renewed permit for the Big Dig, which, though unlikely, could interfere with the timing of construction.
But the biggest question for the council was still the hefty price tag for the projects. Councilwoman Shaner, who also voted against the ordinance on first reading, expressed concerns that the town was overextending itself financially, calling the ordinance "out of control spending," which could place a burden on future councils.
Though, other council members didn't share her assessment of the potential risks.
"If this was year one, and we didn't know we could make it work this would be a more difficult decision to make," said Councilman Dan Fallon. "But we have a staff dedicated to seeing this through."
Moinet said that informational packets for investors will be available through the town's website, and noted that investors could contact her directly for more information.
"The revenues we generate are mostly from visitors, and we want to have them have a good experience when they're here," said Moinet. "There was a great deal of community involvement in coming up with the master plan, and personally and professionally I think it's going to be a really successful enterprise."
The mayor of Breckenridge has the number programmed into his smartphone, but it was one of his peers on town council who had to use it first.
A new 24-hour complaint hotline that allows people to phone in complaints against short-term rentals operating in Breckenridge and Silverthorne has not gone unused since it went live at the beginning of the year.
With the number — 970-368-2044 — being so new, the data is only starting to materialize. Still, it's the first read on how well the new soon-to-be countywide hotline is working.
"One of those noise calls is mine," Breckenridge Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said Tuesday. "I had to use (the hotline) a week ago Saturday on a new short-term rental in our neighborhood and a very loud, obnoxious barking dog that was running all over the place — and it worked."
So far, there have been just under 20 calls in Breckenridge, said Brian Waldes, the town's finance director. Most have been over noise, and all of the complaints have been addressed.
The hotline is part of a sweeping series of new regulations across Summit County with Silverthorne, Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and the Summit County commissioners all moving on new rules for short-term rentals operating in their jurisdictions in recent months. While the new rules aren't universal across the county, each government is requiring that a responsible agent address complaints generated by short-term rentals within an hour. In Silverthorne, the agent has only 30 minutes to address the complaint between the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Because Breckenridge and Silverthorne were the first to act, their short-term rules went into effect at the beginning of the New Year. Recently approved regulations on short-term rentals in Dillon, Frisco and unincorporated Summit County will take effect later this year.
In Silverthorne, the hotline received two noise complaints over the holidays, but it turned out both of those addresses were actually in the Wildernest neighborhood, which lies outside town limits.
Because the homes were outside Silverthorne's jurisdiction, the calls were relayed to the non-emergency dispatch line of the Summit County Sheriff's Office, Silverthorne director of finance Laura Kennedy said via email.
She added that town staff who've been tasked with ensuring short-term rentals fall in line with the towns' and county's new rules met with dispatch before rolling out the new hotline. At this point, the calls that make their way to dispatch are still being handled by police, she said.
Breckenridge has had a few issues with the contract information it provided the call center, leading to some calls getting forwarded to dispatch, Waldes said. The goal of the call center is to avoid that, and Waldes said they've fixed the problem.
"If that's our worst stumble out of the gate, I'll be pretty happy with that," he told council Tuesday night.
Once the county and all municipal jurisdictions are on board with the complaint hotline, town officials will meet with dispatch again to determine whether they need to make any changes to the procedure, while also looking into co-op advertising to better inform the public about the new complaint hotline, Kennedy said.
Both Silverthorne and Breckenridge have been working to ensure residents are aware of the complaint hotline and how it works. Silverthorne put out an informational flyer in utility bills sent out in early January, and Breckenridge has been making similar efforts to get word out.
Communication and knowledge are a key, and it appears word about the hotline is making its way to locals.
Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence said she was visiting friends on Peak 8 in Breckenridge last weekend when an illegally parked car at a short-term rental was blocking a snowplow from getting through. Lawrence said her friends called the hotline and were presently surprised how nice the person who answered the phone was.
It took an hour and a half to resolve the parking issue, Lawrence added, but it did get addressed. That raised at least one question for town manager Rick Holman, who noted that Breckenridge's new rules dictate these issues must be handled more quickly.
"It's still a problem, I think. The rules say an hour," Holman replied before saying that tracking exactly when complaints are phoned in and then not resolved will be something the town needs to focus on as staff look to enforce the new rules, multiple violations of which can lead to an owner losing his or her business license.
Where the towns had to rely on anecdotal stories about individual experiences with short-term rentals before the complaint hotline, staff can now get the calls and type of complaints being levied against the units on a daily basis.
Summit County's real estate market finished 2018 with the same record low number of listings and rising housing prices that persisted throughout the year.
The Colorado Association of Realtors has pegged 2018 as a year of "tremendous contrasts" across the state. Down to the zip code, location mattered as much as anything else. While some experts and economists have predicted a downturn in 2019, evidence of softening real estate markets was not universal across the state, according to the association.
In Summit County, the total residential sales volume eclipsed $1.3 billion last year. That's up 1.1 percent compared to 2017, but the actual number of properties sold fell 5.4 percent.
Of that total, single-family homes accounted for $657 million worth of sales across the county while the condos, townhomes and duplexes sold went for $723 million combined. As much as anything, the low inventory of available listings continues to fuel the local real estate market.
We saw a 30.4 percent increase in the average price for homes in Dillon and Summit Cove. At the same time, residential properties at Copper Mountain also performed extremely well with the average price of a single-family home there going from $2.2 million in 2017 to $3.5 million last year.
Housing in the Breckenridge, Blue River, Frisco, Keystone and the Silverthorne areas also saw increased prices, but a wealth of buyers continued to show their willingness to pay these prices, making the year especially good for those who decided to sell.
I see an uptick in housing prices. However, with buyers still wanting to own property in the Rocky Mountains, the county's strong reputation as a highly desirable resort community and a growing number of real estate agents getting licensed, she said the market is still a "healthy" one.
The biggest thing is Summit County as a whole continues to attract buyers. We're fortunately still a very popular resort market so we get the people trying to take advantage and enjoy the mountain lifestyle in close proximity to major markets like Denver and Colorado Springs.