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history of starwood

In 1962, Edgar and Pauline Stern purchased 960 acres from Art and Amelia Trentaz for the respectable sum of $360,000.00.  Edgar Stern’s original vision for Starwood is seen in the blueprint drawing which is on display in the vestibule of the Starwood Office.  The drawing shows a robust community of residential and commercial properties surrounding a several hundred acre ski area, with lakes, roads and recreation areas, equestrian trails and more.  This vision was proposed to the Pitkin County Commissioners in the mid-nineteen sixties.  According to Ellie Brickham, one of Starwood’s first residents, and the architectural advisor to Mr. Stern, the thought of creating another ski area to compete for the business of the relatively few skiers of that day was not popular with the commissioners, and the plan was rejected.   As a result, the Starwood Land Company developed into a rural residential community for people with an appreciation for the alpine mountain life style and a desire for privacy and seclusion .  As stated in the initial sales brochure “It is the primary intent of the plan for the future development of Starwood that the beauty of Starwood’s pastures and hillsides be preserved and that the present outlook of each homesite remain essentially unchanged.” 

Following is an article written and published in the Aspen Home Magazine provides a sense of what the turn of the 20th century Starwood community was like.

Starwood has become a highly developed and desirable community. Like anything of value, the achievement of this quality was accomplished by the hard work and commitment of the residents, Board members and staff over many years.

In the late 1960s, several additions were platted, roads engineered and homes built. The need for architectural guidelines became necessary, and following many discussions by neighbors, in 1970 the first procedures for architectural approval were adopted. 

According to some of the contractors during that time, Edgar Stern conducted business with a handshake and showed his appreciation for a job well done by naming the streets after the men whom he relied upon to create his vision of Starwood.  Stewart performed survey and title work, Johnson engineering, and over the coming years Eppley, Larson, Danielson, Carroll and Buchanan built roads and installed infrastructure. 

Starwood was very much a rural community, accessed via gravel roads with no guard rails.  Starwood was populated with adventurous residents seeking the serenity of the semi-remote, rural alpine mountain environment that Starwood offered in those days.  

By 1971, for several residents the trek into Aspen to play tennis was beginning to be a time consuming inconvenience and discussions began regarding the construction of tennis courts. Consensus was eventually reached in 1973 on the present C3 commons area site and it was agreed that those interested could form a tennis club and pay for the courts and the necessary maintenance themselves. 

In 1971 Bob Larson was contracted to plow snow, although Sepp Kessler served as the ranch manager and operated the community water system.  Larson Drive and Kessler Drive were named after these two gentlemen.  Among community concerns were the problems of the Lenado Sawmill belching smoke and pollution into Starwood, poor TV reception, and the desire for a second access route into Starwood. In 1972 the opportunity to earn some revenue for Starwood was taken up, and fifty head of cattle were grazed at $4.00 per head per month.

Action to privatize Starwood roads became a popular subject as one of Starwood’s new homeowners, John Denver, became world famous in the entertainment business.  Apparently this generated a good deal of excess traffic into Starwood, and at the end of 1972 all the roads were deeded to the Starwood Homeowners Association.  Discussions then began about deputizing Sepp Kessler, installing an electric gate, and hiring a gatekeeper to control access.

In December of 1973 it was resolved that, because of the nationwide energy crisis, one volunteer would go to town each morning to pick up newspapers for all those who wanted them.

In 1974 the Polgar Agreement was reached between Starwood and the developer Edgar Stern. Among other things, this agreement conveyed the thirty five acre tract that is the Stewart Drive pasture, and is the current site of the cross country ski trail for the Starwood Homeowners Association.  In that agreement Edgar Stern retained the use of the land until such time as he no longer held a property interest in Starwood. 

Also in 1974 off-duty Aspen Police Officers were hired for $5.00 per hour to work at the entrance to Starwood to check for unauthorized visitors.

Chip seal road improvements were made to several roads in Starwood, and a section of  McClain Flats Road was paved by the County, making for improved access to Starwood. 

As the community grew, so did the need for improved water distribution and better roads. During the mid 1970s, following the transfer of the water system operation from the Stern Ranch to the Homeowners Association, the community wrestled with the decisions regarding the establishment of a Water District, building the tennis courts, numerous road improvement projects, and  ongoing discussions about how to get residents and others to slow down. One suggestion at the time was to install logs in the roads to slow down drivers.  Now that some paving had been done, here was discussion about whether to ban mini-bikes and skateboards which were being brought to Starwood to ride. 

By the annual meeting in 1975, all of the lots on Johnson Drive had been sold, and a rush of development was beginning.   John Denver offered to make a substantial financial  contribution towards the operating costs of a Security gate at the entrance of Starwood, and by December a gatehouse was constructed and manned during daylight hours. 

Water became perhaps the greatest concern for Starwood over the next several years and was discussed at nearly every meeting for various reasons.  As more homes were built, additional water storage became an issue, as well as water storage for fire protection.   Leaky water mains and service lines became concerns as the galvanized water pipes used in those times began to age and deteriorate. More homes equaled greater demand, and transmission capacity was an issue.  These concerns eventually found temporary resolution with the formation of a Water District in 1982. Following a decade of worry and temporary short-term solutions, and after rejecting the possibility of connecting to the City due to expense, the formation of the Starwood Water District allowed the community to finance, with a $2,000,000 bond, the replacement of the deteriorating water storage tanks and distribution system.  Properly engineer-designed ductile iron pipes, adequately sized pumping facilities with state-of-the-art control equipment, large capacity water storage tanks, and dry barrel fire hydrants were constructed in Starwood.  This was a great leap forward for Starwood in terms of investment in infrastructure and preparation for future investment and growth in the development of the subdivision. 

In 1978 as preparation for these investments, the Starwood Board of Trustees hired a water system operator to manage Starwood and constructed a home on Stewart Drive for him and his family. 

In 1982 the Board decided that they would prefer the elimination of guns worn by the security guards, but stepped up security to a gate house staffed twenty-four hours a day. Also in 1982, cable TV finally was installed in Starwood.

With a portion of the roads now newly paved, the speeds increased as the dust decreased, and a few sections of guard rail were installed in 1983 along some of the dangerous areas of Trentaz Drive.  

A request from the nearby Star Mesa subdivision to access that property through Starwood was rejected by Starwood. Concerns regarding road maintenance had grown as more homes were being constructed. Following many discussions, the decision was made to pave all Starwood roads and build a garage for a fire truck.  1984 and 1985 saw the fruit of those decisions ripen as those projects were completed, and a fire truck arrived to take up residence in the newly constructed maintenance facility. When Bob Appleton was hired to manage Starwood, Westec Security was contracted to manage the security gate, resolving staffing concerns at the gatehouse.

Road concerns arose when damage from truck traffic began taking a toll on the newly paved roads.   In 1985 the Homeowners Association implemented a road-impact fee based upon research provided by Dean Gordon of Schmueser Gordon Mayer Engineering. 

Until 1986 the gate house did not actually have a gate. Before 1982, the guardhouse was staffed with armed off duty police officers in a small enclosure with a clip board, a space heater, and a chemical toilet. Between 1982 and 1986, perhaps because the Security officers no longer carried firearms, the occurrence of trespassers became more prevalent.  Therefore, in 1986 the board voted to install an electronic gate that would stop all traffic for inspection and approval before being permitted to continue into Starwood.

1986 also saw the implementation of architectural approval fees due to the time and expense incurred by Ellie Brickham, who had acted as the Architectural Advisor for Starwood since the beginning.  Ellie had voluntarily reviewed plans until 1986, and she had designed the Stern home, the Stein Eriksen home and several other homes in Starwood including her own.  When Ellie left the Board, it was decided that if she continued to review plans and advise the Architectural Committee, fees should be collected to compensate her for her time.

Working from her home, Joann McFadden had served as Starwood Homeowners Association Secretary for ten years when she resigned in 1987.  Julia Johnston was hired to be the Starwood Secretary in 1988.  Her husband, Bill, joined the Starwood staff in 1990 as Manager.  During the next twenty years, larger homes became the norm.  More than thirty homes in excess of five thousand square feet were built in Starwood during those years.  Other changes to the subdivision included the construction of a new gatehouse in 1989 and an addition to the maintenance facility in 1992.  Also in 1992 the Homeowners Association took over the maintenance and upkeep of the tennis courts from the tennis club members.  Many landscape projects were undertaken to hide utility equipment and improve the appearance of the entrance to Starwood.  When Paul Taddune successfully defended the ability of the Homeowners Association to charge road-impact fees, large investments in road infrastructure were undertaken, and eventually ownership of Trentaz Drive was returned to Starwood.  Major improvements to Trentaz were made, as well as to North Starwood Drive and Buchanan Drive.  All Starwood roads were paved and over the years maintained with the revenue from the fees charged for construction vehicles’ use of Starwood’s roads.

During the Y2K scare, Starwood made emergency preparedness investments that included new emergency generators for the water pumping stations.  In 2001 the Starwood Water District was transformed by a vote of the citizens into the Starwood Metropolitan District, and most of all of the services previously managed by the Homeowners Association were incorporated into the Metro District and financed with property taxes, instead of Homeowners Association assessments. As property values increased, and awareness of rural wildfire potential heightened, Starwood residents became concerned about the possible impact of a wildfire and the District’s ability to provide water. Therefore, a project was undertaken to fireproof all of Starwood’s pumping stations against their destruction by fire.  The pumping stations were replaced by fireproof structures with a two hour fire resistance rating.  As technology has improved, many water operating system improvements have been implemented that have made it possible for the District to operate and deliver water service to all Homeowners in a cost effective manner, without additional employees or staffing adjustments.

Following several years of discussion and planning, a new Starwood office was built in 2009.

Meg Haynes served as Chairman of the Board through most of the 1990s, and she then became Executive Director of the Metro District in 2001 and has continued her service to Starwood to the present day.  In 2010, Julia and Bill Johnston retired from Starwood as Secretary and Manager. Mark Asher became the Starwood Manager, and Heather Dresser, the Secretary.

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Starwood’s Siren Song

(excerpted from a Resort Home Magazine article by Julie Comins Pickrell)

Trivia question: Which Aspen neighborhood inspired the name of both a modestly successful country-rock band and a song by the late pop-folk icon John Denver?

If you guessed Starwood, you’re correct. In the mid-1970’s, when Denver, stuck in “grey” L.A., yearned for his “sweet Rocky Mountain paradise”, Starwood was the ultimate glamour address. But more than three decades later, does the Roaring Fork Valley’s first gated community still have the same cachet?

Spread out across a high mesa just under three miles northwest of Aspen, Starwood encompasses 960 acres of some of the most stunning Colorado ranchland ever to be bought, subdivided, and sold. The southwest-facing orientation and 8,400-foot elevation (more than 600 feet above the valley floor) give it what one resident calls “that big sky phenomenon”. From up here you can watch storms roll in from miles away.  On clear evenings at dusk, the sun appears to dally a little longer before dipping behind Mount Daly, to the southwest. A drive along Starwood’s sinuous, impeccably maintained roads serves up vista after jaw-dropping vista of the Elk Mountain Range, from Independence Pass to the east all the way to Mount Sopris, near Carbondale.

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Over the years, Starwood residents have run the gamut from movie stars to pop stars to sports stars to media moguls, best-selling authors, and film producers. Today the mix also includes second homeowners, retirees, a few longtime locals, young families, newcomers to the valley, and even some returnees who grew up in Aspen but settled elsewhere after college.  Some homeowners speak of a strong sense of community among the full-time residents. Others say they have little contact with their neighbors. But in choosing Starwood they are all satisfying a shared desire for at least two things: a pristine natural setting and privacy, privacy, privacy.

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Starwood wasn’t always deemed desirable. Back in 1962, when developer Edgar Stern bought the former Trentaz potato and cattle ranch and divided it into 106 parcels, lots were hard to sell, even for the paltry asking price of $7,500. Starwood was considered too far from town. Now the refuge it provides from busy Aspen is highly valued. Generous lot sizes (typically two to five acres each), abundant common and open space, and dense natural vegetation have helped the community retain its rural character. Additionally, homeowners in Starwood love the views. Looking out of the windows of most of the homes, Aspen’s four ski areas are immediately visible. If not for the round-the-clock manned gatehouse and occasional 17,000-plus-square-foot mansion punctuating the hillside, one could forget Aspen’s bustling hub is just over a ten minute drive away.

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The Starwood subdivision is under the auspices of the Starwood Metropolitan District which maintains the area’s infrastructure: seven miles of roads, state-of-the-art water systems, cross-country ski and hiking trails, tennis courts, common pastures, mail room, and the Starwood security gate. The on-site manager lives in a home on the Starwood property, adjacent to the Starwood Homeowners Association and Metropolitan District office.  The current president of the Starwood Homeowners Association rates infrastructure maintenance “a ten”, and reports that residents feel “very well cared for” by Metro District staff.

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One question often asked is just how far does the real estate dollar go in Starwood these days?  According to one longtime local broker, it goes quite a way – comparatively speaking, of course, believing that the subdivision is even currently undervalued since “the dollar buys a lot up there these days”.  As newer, state-of-the-art homes and subdivisions have come on the market in the Roaring Fork Valley in recent years, with big promotional splashes, the spotlight has been pulled from Starwood.  In 2005 and 2006, home sales averaged about half a dozen per year. Realtors seem to feel that “Starwood still has huge cachet. That hasn’t changed over the years – it’s just that there is more competition now” in the real estate market.

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The Starwood Homeowners Association’s reputation for being overly strict in enforcing its covenants and architectural procedures may not always help perceptions about purchasing in the subdivision. Buyers shelling out big bucks for big homes typically don’t like being told what they can and cannot do with those homes. The HOA has improved its methods of communicating architectural and other guidelines to prospective homeowners (the covenants and architectural procedures can be viewed online at www.starwood.org).  Respect for the building envelope, for neighbors’ views, and for maintaining Starwood’s natural setting are chief concerns. Obtaining approvals for an addition was tough, according to one homeowner, who moved to Starwood more than two decades ago: “It can be a vexing and arduous process if you are building or renovating”, but he understands that it is all in the name of preserving a cherished way of life. And while people may grumble when they are going through the design review process, most Starwood owners seem to agree that “once they live here, they are happy for it”.

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As for Starwood’s signature security gate? Some residents say they could take it or leave it. But many admit that in a post-9/11 world, they feel safer for it. After all, protecting paradise is a full-time job.