Year in review, part 2: The headlines of 2010
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part year in review.
EAGLE COUNTY – Several high-profile court cases were among the biggest headlines from 2010 in Eagle County. Here’s the second installment of our roundup of the top stories of the year.
College campus expands
The Edwards campus of Colorado Mountain College broke ground on a project that will more than double its size by the time the 2011-12 school year starts.
The project responds to growing enrollment at the school. For the 2009-10 school year, 4,849 students were enrolled at the Edwards campus, up from 3,543 for 2004-05, the year it opened.
At the heart of the plan is the addition of more than 32,000 square feet to the 30,000 square foot building now on the property. Parking will be expanded, too, by 128 spaces. Work on the project started over the summer and will take about a year.
The college has also embarked on plans to add four-year bachelor’s degrees.
Medical marijuana vote
In November, voters said marijuana dispensaries could stay in unincorporated Eagle County. It was a victory for the five dispensaries in Edwards and Eagle-Vail. The vote prompted county commissioners to rework their laws governing the dispensaries, a process that is still going on.
Several municipalities across the state put pot shops to a vote after the state passed a new laws in June regulating the industry and allowing local governments to ban dispensaries in their communities.
New jail opens, closes
In December, Eagle County officials announced they would close the new multi-million-dollar jail wing because there weren’t enough prisoners.
The commissioners had voted in 2008 to spend $32.8 million to expand and remodel the justice center.
The expanded jail holds 120 prisoners, including 40 in the new wing and 16 in the new work release facility. The jail population had been hovering around 58 this year.
The Sheriff’s Office will save $300,000 a year by closing the new jail wing, said Sheriff Joe Hoy.
Plane crash kills two
Earlier this month, a plane crashed in a snowstorm north of Edwards, killing the two people on board.
The twin-engine Beech B-60 crashed about 3.5 miles north of Edwards.
Eagle County officials identified the victims as Barton Harris, 67, of Brownwood, Texas, and Jerry Hoggatt, 73, of Pelham, Ala.
Shooting suspect pleads not guilty
Just months after Richard “Rossi” Moreau was arrested and charged with a shooting rampage in West Vail, prosecutors played the surveillance video from the Sandbar in West Vail that they said depicted Moreau shooting several bar patrons.
Eagle County Judge Katharine Sullivan agreed in January that there was enough probable cause to bound the case over to District Court.
District Judge R. Thomas Moorhead set the trial date for Sept. 20 of this year back in March, just days after District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said he wouldn’t seek the death penalty in the case.
Public Defenders Dana Christiansen and Reed Owens entered a not guilty plea for Moreau in May and asked for more time due to delays in mental health expert reports for the defense. Moorhead then rescheduled the trial for Feb. 7, 2011.
Defense attorneys shared the mental health expert reports with the prosecution earlier this month and told Moorhead they would not be changing Moreau’s not guilty plea, but that evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder would be presented to show some form of reduced culpability.
Moreau faces one count of first-degree murder and seven other felony charges in the Nov. 7, 2009, shooting at the Sandbar in West Vail in which Carbondale resident Gary Bruce Kitching, 70, was killed.
Vail completes “Billion Dollar Renewal”
Three major projects in the town’s so-called Billion Dollar Renewal – Solaris, the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons – were completed in 2010.
At the town’s annual community meeting in March, Mayor Dick Cleveland said the decision was made years ago to address the fact that Vail was looking like an “aging community.”
He said the three projects make Vail “well-positioned, when the economy rebounds, to respond.”
An economic rebound, however, wasn’t yet upon us in 2010 and evidence of a still-struggling real estate market was obvious as Vail Resorts announced its fiscal 2010 earnings and first-quarter earnings for fiscal 2011.
Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz said the company’s Ritz-Carlton project is no question “less profitable than what we would have expected before the financial crisis and economic recession hit.”
He and Vail Resorts Chief Financial Officer Jeff Jones said the company has adjusted to that reality and expects sales at the Ritz-Carlton, as well as a new development in Breckenridge, to take several years.
As for the size of the three new buildings in Vail – they’re all big – some longtime locals aren’t so sure they fit in with the town’s character. They say only time will tell if the decisions were right for Vail.
Longtime local Sheika Gramshammer said Vail visionaries wanted European touches everywhere – chalets and smaller-scale buildings.
Gramshammer feels some of the new sizes and architectural looks are too drastic of a change for Vail.
“We’re bringing the city into the mountains,” Gramshammer said.
Solaris developer Peter Knobel defends his building’s size, citing public benefits, mainly the public plaza and artwork that take up a sizable portion of the site’s footprint.
“If we didn’t build that town plaza, it would have taken out some of that mass and bulk,” Knobel said.
Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler said the projects are impressive and will bring the kinds of guests to Vail that the town wants.
Vail Homeowners Association Executive Director Jim Lamont isn’t ready to judge the new developments yet, though. He thinks the town has work to do on adding more international business to the mix – business that would fuel the success of the new projects.
“I think it’s a very serious time,” Lamont said. “To sit back and think we can relax and all we have to do is throw open the doors and wait for people to come, think again.”
District attorney takes heat over plea bargain
As news broke that District Attorney Mark Hurlbert dropped a felony charge in a plea bargain deal because of a hit-and-run suspect’s job as a prominent Denver wealth manager, cyclists from all over the country were outraged.
The hit-and-run driver, Marty Erzinger, ran down cyclist Dr. Steven Milo, a New York City anesthesiologist, July 3 in Edwards.
Erzinger behaved strangely after the accident, and was found in an abandoned Pizza Hut parking lot three miles away placing parts of his damaged 2010 Mercedes into his trunk as police arrived.
Milo suffered life-threatening injuries, including bleeding in his brain and spinal cord injuries, and pushed the District Attorney’s Office for a felony charge, which had been originally filed by both the Colorado State Patrol trooper who arrested Erzinger and the District Attorney’s Office.
Milo accused Hurlbert and Deputy District Attorney Mark Brostrom of back-door bargaining once he learned a plea bargain in the case included just two misdemeanor charges and no felony.
Hurlbert received at least 1,000 e-mails criticizing him for the way the case was handled, with some cyclists even going so far to say they plan to boycott the region.
District Judge Frederick Gannett accepted the plea bargain earlier this month, and Erzinger pleaded guilty to the two misdemeanors.
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