AURORA | Not all of the world’s monumental moments happened somewhere else. There’s little doubt that 2016 won’t be soon forgotten in Aurora.
The year saw a bevy of milestones, including a turnaround at the VA hospital, a wild election season, and a local chapter in the growing national controversy over how police interact with black residents. Here’s some of our top stories:
Budget-busting Aurora VA hospital gets well, on track to open in 2018
After years of budget-busting slowdowns and controversy, 2016 saw the new Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora finally make some serious progress.
The hospital is set to be finished by early 2018.
Nearly a year into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers taking over the $1.7 billion construction of the replacement veterans hospital — years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget — the project neared 80 percent complete by late 2016, and officials said they were confident the facility has overcome its cost issues.
Officials took reporters and photographers on a tour of parts of the 1.2-million-square-foot facility in October, the first since VA officials hosted a tour of the site in 2015, when the hospital was only 55 percent complete and still requesting millions of dollars from Congress to finish.
The Corps, which took over managing the project in November 2015, was awarded a $571 million contract to complete the medical center.
“I have confidence that the Army Corps of Engineers is doing everything it can to bring down the price tag and complete this hospital as soon as possible,” said 6th Congressional District Rep. Mike Coffman, who was front and center in the fight in Congress to strip the VA of its construction management authority to build this and other hospitals across the country.
Sen. Michael Bennet’s office said he, too, is looking ahead.
“We are happy the management of the project has improved under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” said Bennet spokeswoman Laurie Cipriano. “Looking forward, we are pressing the VA to ensure the critical activation phase goes smoothly so our veterans have access to the world-class care they deserve.”
Members of the press were allowed to tour certain portions of the future hospital, including the under-construction, quarter-mile long, 70-foot-high concourse that connects all 12 buildings. Reporters also toured the hospital’s radiology unit, the audiology clinic and the future inpatient 30-bed spinal cord injury unit.
Eileen Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps, said the Corps will be handing over all of the clinic and research buildings to the VA when construction is completed. She said the Corps will turn over inpatient buildings sometime in February or March of 2017.
“We’re in various states of completion,” she said, describing the transference of buildings back to the VA when the Corps completes their construction as “staggered.”
Corps officials say the project is still on track to cost $1.7 billion to construct with an additional $340 million activation cost that will be the responsibility of the VA. That cost involves moving surgical tools, laboratory equipment, patient monitors, waiting room furniture and hospital beds into the future facility.
When completed, the 184-bed hospital will hold two inpatient buildings, two clinic buildings, a diagnostic and treatment center, a research building, concourse, energy center to power the building efficiently, as well as three parking garages with 2,242 spaces. It is located next to the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
Aurora meets Pakistan when Sentinel reporter Quincy Snowdon travels abroad
The Aurora Sentinel embarked on what was perhaps its first-ever international assignment in 2016 through a exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State and organized by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization the International Center for Journalists.
You remember all of those strange “AURORA TO PAKISTAN” stories, don’t you?
Reporter Quincy Snowdon traveled to Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan, in late September to learn about and report on a long, narrow country of some 200 million people.
His dispatches were gleaned from meetings with many of the country’s brightest and most sanguine, as well as many feigned, bureaucratic optimists, including education reformers, media watchdogs, reporters, senators, and government squawk boxes. Those conversations led to a sea of Wikipedia-style facts and figures, like how nearly 120 Pakistani journalists have been killed since 2000 because of stories they had reported, according to the Islamabad-based nonprofit Media Matters for Democracy. And how the United Nations estimates about 42 percent of the country’s children are stunted. Approximately 24 million Pakistani kids are out of school, according to a recent Unicef report. Some 60 percent of the country’s population is under 30.
And then there’s the still-mindblowing factoid that the population of the seaside city of Karachi is estimated to top about 24 million people — a tally that’s roughly equivalent to the entire population of Australia.
After ditching Aurora and parachuting into Pakistan, Snowdon saw the differences and tried to underscore the similarities between his home nation, which was embroiled in the tumult of election season, and an Islamic Republic on the other side of the world.
Above all, Snowdon learned that the travel bug is real and bites fiercely. And there’s a lot of world to be reported on out there. Perhaps — just perhaps — those exotic and elusive Sentinel datelines won’t be relegated just to 2016.
Disgraced APS director continues to serve after wearing out his welcome
Eric Nelson’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year is finally coming to a close.
Nelson, an Aurora Public Schools Board of Education director since 2013, was accused in June of lying about multiple claims on his lengthy résumé. Originally reported by The Colorado Statesman, Nelson’s falsifications included feigned claims of military service, phony academic degrees and affiliations with professional societies that had never heard of him.
Nelson’s claims resulted in repeated calls from fellow board members for him to step down from his post — requests he repeatedly ignored. Board members eventually solicited a private investigation into Nelson’s past, which yielded a report detailing four fraudulent degrees, a flubbed teaching position as an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, and several military fabrications tethered to a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force.
The school district paid about $18,000 for the report, which was conducted by Denver-based private investigator Rick Johnson.
“This guy thinks he’s a legend in his own mind, and he self-marinates in this stuff,” Johnson told The Sentinel in June. “He wants to be something he’s not. He marinates in it. Who does that? He can’t separate truth from fiction.”
In a letter sent earlier this summer, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, a former Marine, requested U.S. Attorney John Walsh’s office look into Nelson’s claimed military credentials to determine if the APS board member had violated provisions of the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, a federal law intended to punish anyone who misrepresents receipt of military decorations. Coffman co-sponsored the bill when it was passed into law more than three years ago.
The claims that Nelson had embellished his résumé surfaced days before Aurora Democrats cast their votes in the primary for the city’s House District 42. Nelson handily lost that race to the eventual winner, state Rep.-elect Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora.
Nelson is still an active member of the APS school board, as a citizen-led recall remains the only course of action that could strip Nelson of his status on the board.
The board voted to officially censure Nelson this summer, a move that disallows Nelson from identifying as a board director at public events, and bars him from making purchases using petty cash allocated to board members — among other sanctions. The move was largely symbolic, according to APS counsel.
Several community members, APS staffers and former district superintendent John Barry reiterated the board’s calls for Nelson to step down during the public comment portion of several meetings throughout the summer and fall. His current term runs through fall 2017.
City agrees to $2.6 million settlement in death of an unarmed black man
The case of an unarmed black man shot to death by an Aurora police officer largely concluded in 2016, with the city paying a massive $2.6 million to the man’s family.
The settlement, announced in November, also calls for the city to increase the use of police officer body cameras and adds layers of oversight and review to future police shootings, according to a statement from the family’s lawyers.
Officials said $500,000 comes from city funds; the remaining balance is paid by a city insurance policy.
A Jefferson County grand jury in December 2015 cleared officer Paul Jerothe of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of Naeschylus Vinzant-Carter on March 6, 2015. Police said Vinzant-Carter was being arrested and appeared to be reaching in his pocket when Jerothe shot him.
Police later learned Vinzant-Carter — who was wanted on kidnapping, escape and other charges — was unarmed.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, one of the lawyers who represented the family, said it was important to the family that any settlement with the city include policy changes.
“The Carter family are extremely thoughtful, peaceful folks who just are trying to cope with this incredible loss and really trying to help our community through positive social reform,” he said.
While cities across the country have erupted in sometimes violent protests over the police shootings, Aurora protests were peaceful, even after the results of the investigation were released.
Mohamedbhai said part of the reason for the calm after Vinzant-Carter’s death was the city’s willingness to work closely with the family. The two sides even issued a joint statement in 2015.
“They made sincere efforts to make the best of this tragedy,” he said of the city officials who met with the family.
Bernadette Carter-Allen , who had three children with Vinzant-Carter, said he was an amazing father who always wanted a family.
Other families faced with similar situations should be willing to listen when they meet with city leaders, she said, and they should avoid the sorts of violence other cities have dealt with.
“Violence its not going to do anything but make another tragedy and have another family with loss,” she said. “It’s not worth it, it’s not worth more heartache.”
Aurora police Sgt. Bob Wesner, president of the Aurora Police Association, said the officer union was pleased that the process played out the way it was supposed to.
Red-light ticketing debate postponed for another year
It looked in early 2016 like it might be the year when Aurora voters had their say on the city’s controversial photo red-light ticketing system.
But, fearing a crowded November ballot, Aurora City Council members agreed in June to pursue a special election in 2017 to ask voters whether to continue the program.
The decision made Aurora one of the first municipalities to take a step toward possibly reining in an existing photo-red system since Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed legislation in June that would have created a statewide ban on red-light traffic cameras. He said individual municipalities should decide for themselves.
Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier said she would not like her measure to get piled on top of numerous other initiatives slated for the November general election ballot. She instead advocated for a special election next spring with only “Aurora” issues.
Mounier is behind a measure that would ask voters for a “yes” or “no” on a measure to prohibit the city from issuing photo-red light traffic tickets.
Ward II Councilwoman Renie Peterson said she would prefer for a photo red-light measure to be on the November ballot rather than a special election.
“Voters don’t show up for them,” Peterson said of spring votes.
Aurora Ward V Councilman Bob Roth said he would be OK with a special election if it didn’t cost so much. Aurora Deputy City Clerk Karen Goldman said a special election in April would cost anywhere from $300,000 to $350,000, based on a $2 to $2.50 cost per voter in Arapahoe County and based on voter registration numbers.
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said he wouldn’t support the special election for a single issue, but would if the ballot contained numerous Aurora-specific issues. He also noted at the time that any issue would likely fail in November with limited time to campaign and explain the measures.
The photo red-light program brings in approximately $3.3 million annually, according to Aurora police. In 2015, about $1.1 million of photo red-light revenues went to a “nexus” program that supports nonprofits who provide a substantial service to law enforcement.
The city has 14 photo red-light cameras at 10 intersections, and Aurora Police have in the past discussed expanding the program, stating the cameras work and make the city safer.
Aurora shows support for ‘blue lives’ amid national increase in violent targeting of law enforcement
In a year that saw several cases of deadly targeting of police in other parts of the country, Aurora City Council members this year made it clear: They stand firmly behind the city’s police officers.
In a June letter, Mayor Steve Hogan and the 10 elected council members declared “we are with you” to the members of the Aurora Police Department, adding they “wholeheartedly believe” in the job they are doing for the community.
“Should someone out there decide to illegally strike out against any one of you, rest assured we will support you, your family, your friends, and brothers and sisters on the force,” the letter reads. “We cannot stand in front of you, but we can stand with you, and let there be no doubt we are standing with you.”
The letter — without directly referencing events in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rogue, La., in which police officers were targeted and killed — notes that “some in society have moved from respect for the rule of law, respect for community, and respect for each other, to a lack of respect for the very basics of what makes matters work in the world today.”
A racially charged narrative has re-emerged in the U.S. due to fatal shootings of black men by white officers as well as the shooting deaths of eight officers in Texas and Louisiana.
While Aurora has not seen any violence directed squarely at police such as the deadly shootings in Dallas and Baton Rogue, an Aurora police officer was attacked in December 2015 with a meat cleaver during a traffic stop on the off-ramp from Interstate 225 to East Alameda Avenue. The suspect in the attack was later killed by officers following a high-speed chase during a snowstorm.
Additionally, Aurora Police Officer Ryan Burns was shot in the leg during a November 2014 traffic stop. The attacker — Jahvell Forrest — was sentenced to 30 years in prison in March.
Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe said, between 2011 and 2015 in Aurora, there were a total of 28 officer-involved shootings, 19 of which were fatal.
Aurora schools — APS and Cherry Creek — rally successfully for major bond issues
Both Aurora Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District successfully passed bond issues this fall, securing future funds for new schools, maintenance and a slew of novel projects.
The APS bond question, which asked voters for $300 million to update the districts many crowded and aging schools, passed by a comfortable margin in Adams and Arapahoe Counties on Election Day. The CCSD bond issue calling for a $250 million bond narrowly earned voter support, while that district’s corresponding budget issue, which will provide the district with nearly $24 million in operating funds, earned a much larger portion of voters’ support.
The bond funds in APS will be used to construct a new school serving grades six to 12 in northwest Aurora, as well as a new P-8 school in east Aurora and the replacement of both Mrachek Middle School and Lyn Knoll Elementary School.
District officials have said the bond issue will increase residential property taxes by about $1.93 per month for every $100,000 of home value.
The CCSD bond — which will not result in a tax increase due to the structuring of the district’s debt — will provide additional funding for all schools in the district. About $40 million will be earmarked for the construction of a novel career and innovation academy, as district officials call it, which will be located somewhere near the geographic center of the district. Cherry Creek’s budget issue will buoy the district’s operating budget and will result in an annual increase of nearly $100 for homes valued at about $350,000 — the average home price in the district.
City celebrates groundbreaking on long-awaited Gaylord Rockies project
While there were years when the Gaylord Rockies project looked like it would never get off the ground, 2016 wasn’t one of those.
This year, backers of the plan, led by the Aurora Economic Development Council, celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking of the massive hotel and also watched as construction crews made major progress at the site.
And already, the hotel has booked more than 150,000 guest nights, according to Gaylord officials, a figure that tops similar yet-to-be-built projects in Houston and Chicago. And of the conferences and businesses booking space at Gaylord, company officials say 88 percent have never visited Colorado for a conference in the past.
Before 2016, the project had hit roadblock after roadblock.
Amid lawsuits, political opposition at the state Capitol and wholesale changes to the developers and brands attached to the deal, Ira Metzner, president and CEO of RIDA Development Corporation, the lead developer behind the project, said his confidence wavered, but only a little.
On a brisk January day, those doubts were washed away.
In fall 2015 the project secured about $500 million in financing and a few months later, Metzner, AEDC President and CEO Wendy Mitchell, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and other backers celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site. The massive hotel and conference room is expected to be the state’s biggest, with 1,500 rooms and 485,000 square feet of conference space.
Hogan said there are a few projects that define Aurora — the redevelopment of the old Fitzsimons Army Medical Center into the Anschutz Medical Campus and the city-owned water system among them.
“This goes on that list,” he said.
There was likely nobody at the ceremony as relieved as Mitchell, who first started negotiating the deal for Gaylord close to six years ago and throughout has been Aurora’s point person on the project.
“This was the hardest deal, hands down, in my entire career,” Mitchell said before the groundbreaking. “And it will probably be the hardest and most fun deal of my career.
“This is going to change Aurora forever,” she added. “It’s truly a transformational project.”
Aurora reconsiders effort to become a city/county
Making Aurora a city and county — an idea that has long been a favorite of some Aurora City Council members — looks like it may have died in 2016.
City leaders are putting the long-studied initiative aside after it became clear at a council workshop in April that there would not be strong support from all members of council to pursue a campaign.
A presentation on the topic itself was scrapped, while the resulting discussion was launched at the behest of the initiative’s supporters.
“I think for the benefit of the public we should have this discussion,” said At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare. “We spent, what, $400,000 to $600,000 studying this and then we just left it hanging because the support for it waned in the years we were studying?”
Mayor Steve Hogan noted that he still firmly believes in the idea of Aurora splitting off from Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, but he said that it could not be done without the firm backing of most members of council.
“The two entities that have gone to city-and-county status, Denver and Broomfield — neither one of them have looked back. If you asked them if it was the right decision to make, they’d have said ‘Yes, it was the right decision to make.’ … They understand what you can do as a city and a county,” Hogan said. “But the advantage that each of them had was that their governing body was together when it came time to do the campaign.
“Heck, even if we went around the table right now and it was 6-5 or maybe even 7-4 in favor of doing this, I’d still say those are horrible odds for trying to get something passed. … So, as much as I support this and as much as I will always support it, I see no reason to sit here and talk about it if it ain’t going anywhere.”
A 2014 report commissioned by the city from Maryland-based TischlerBise estimated a city-county consolidation would cost about $325 million over a 20-year period.
State officials apply theater shooter’s case in effort to reform mental health policy
Four years after a gunman opened fire on an Aurora movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 70, state officials this year said they are hoping to reform Colorado’s mental health hold system.
The Colorado Department of Human Services announced a new task force in July that will review the system and make recommendations about how to improve it.
“We are pleased to appoint a diverse and talented group of individuals to this task force,” Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, said in a statement. “We look forward to the discussion and their recommendations on the important issues around the rights and health of Coloradans experiencing a mental health crisis.”
After the theater shooting, many questioned why the shooter, James Holmes, wasn’t placed on a hold when he told his psychiatrist he fantasized about killing people. His doctor told police at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus about the threats, but the shooter was never detained.
Gov. John Hickenlooper asked CDHS to create the task force after he vetoed legislation in the spring aimed at improving the mental health hold process.
When he issued his veto, Hickenlooper said the legislation didn’t have adequate due-process protections, but agreed the system needed to improve.
The statement from CDHS said the task force will “ensure that Coloradans experiencing mental health crises have access to appropriate mental health services while preserving their fundamental rights.”
Among the group’s specific charges: ensure proper mental health treatment for people in crisis, no longer jail the mentally ill who have committed no crime, and streamline regulatory oversight of the mental health hold process, according to CDHS.
The lawsuit against University of Colorado and Holmes’ psychiatrist — which is expected to focus attention on whether Dr. Lynne Fenton and school staff could have done more to prevent the attacks — remains one of the case’s last court fights.
That lawsuit says Holmes told Fenton on June 11, 2012, that he fantasized about killing people, and Fenton told the university’s Campus Wide Threat Assessment Team. Sometime after that, Officer Lynn Whitten of the CU Police Department at the Anschutz Medical Campus offered to detain Holmes for a 72-hour psychiatric hold. Fenton rejected that action.
The lawsuit was put on an “administrative hold” in 2015 pending the outcome of the civil suits accusing the theater’s owner, Cinemark Inc., of having lax security. A jury in a case against Cinemark sided with the theater chain this summer. Still, Cinemark has said it plans to compensate victims who sued to have their legal costs paid, estimated about $700,000.
Also in 2016, the families of the victims battled with state officials over where Holmes is being held.
After being convicted in 2015, he was moved from Colorado Department of Corrections custody to an undisclosed prison. Arapahoe County prosecutors say even they don’t know where the convicted killer is serving his life sentence.
Aurora schools’ ‘innovation zone’ frees district from some state, local regs
A quintet of schools in northwest Aurora this spring earned the approval of Aurora Public Schools staffers, the district board of education and the state board of education to create a novel innovation zone that untethered the schools from a bevy of state and local regulations.
Aurora Central High School, Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, Boston K-8 and Paris and Crawford elementary schools comprise the so-called innovation zone, which is a term used to refer to a cluster of schools with innovation status. Innovation is tied to a 2008 state law that frees qualifying schools from many state and local regulations, including those regarding budgeting, graduation requirements and credit disbursement.
The schools were also freed from a litany of regulations, including those tied to hiring new teachers, the overall school calendar and length of the school day.
Although state board of education members unanimously approved APS’s innovation zone, board members raised concerns with Central’s status on the state’s five-year accountability clock. The school will have to take action as prescribed by the state board by June 30, 2017.
About a dozen APS schools that have been on the state’s so-called accountability clock, including Aurora Central, will continue to operate under that status next year, according to ratings the state released this fall.
While the legislature elected to freeze the clock last year to adjust for new academic standards, Aurora Central is the lone APS school heading into the final year of the clock.
The district as a whole is also going into year five of the accountability clock with the tag of priority improvement status. However, the state’s department of education has yet to solidify the process for schools or districts that have remained on the accountability timeline since it was conceived. Those state recommendations range from charter conversion to closure.
Aurora updates city’s comprehensive plan
Aurora leaders launched a plan in 2016 to lay out what kind of city Aurora will be in the future, a sprawling effort that could focus on bringing a true downtown.
The plan included asking residents for input on what matters for the city: Aurora’s image problem as an unsafe city and its lack of a legitimate downtown were leading concerns in about 500 online survey responses.
“We heard a lot about image and identity,” consultant John Houseal of Houseal Lavigne Associates told Aurora City Council members in October. “The thing we’ve heard more than most is it is not safe here.”
The city’s in the process of creating a new comprehensive plan over the next year-and-a-half aimed to represent a “collective vision for Aurora’s future” and help guide city leaders for the next 10 years or more, according to a news release from Aurora public information officer Julie Patterson.
Houseal in October presented the results that had been collected on the city-run website, www.auroraplacesplan.com, which also serves as resource for information as the plan is crafted.
He also said Aurora lacks an identifiable downtown, though it is host to several neighborhood gathering places. Houseal said creating a city that appeals as a “cool city” to live in is even more important than focusing on economic development in Aurora.
“Economic development is more than just a numbers game,” he said. “It has transferred from a numbers game to how many brewpubs do you have per capita?”
The plan — Aurora Places — will serve as a foundation for decision making in the city, establishing policies and recommendations related to land use and development, housing, transportation and mobility, community health and sustainability, diversity and more.
Aurora has not updated its comprehensive plan since 2009.
Biz begins at Stanley
The floors of Aurora’s Stanley Aviation building officially swapped ejector seats for upmarket eats, wares and cocktails at the tail-end of 2016.
Patrons not wearing hardhats began cycling through Stanley Marketplace, the some 100,000-sqaure-foot bazaar that has been long-billed to utterly revamp a nefarious corner of the city, in November. But construction delays spurred by labor shortages meant the facility’s first operating tenant, OPENAir Academy, an alternative childcare facility, opened for business the week before Thanksgiving completely incognito, and without the grand opening ceremony that was supposed to happen “summer 2016,” then Labor Day Weekend, then in October, then by the end of the year.
But the New Year means that Stanley has finally and officially arrived, and with it comes a carousel of some 50 posh, new businesses. The retailers and restauranteurs run the gamut of supplies and services, including, but not limited to a massive beer hall, The Infinite Monkey Theorem, Denver Biscuit Co., Rosenberg’s Bagels, Kindness Yoga, a hair studio, a dentist — the list goes on.
How the facility will or will not serve as the face of Aurora’s ongoing evolution remains to be seen, although local politicos, artists, business owners and others have not held back in voicing their enthusiasm for the collaborative venue’s potential. Last year, the city also scooted Stanley some additional shekels in the form of new tax increment financing districts.
Developers dig deep into city’s NW corner
Development in the city’s far northwest corner was generally a tough slog in recent years. But that all changed in 2016.
Stanley Marketplace opened in December, and more is on the way. Officials also announced plans this year for Nourish Community Market, a 10,000-square-foot co-op market at 2352 Dallas St. The market will be on the ground floor of the Heights at Westerly Creek condominium building in the city’s Westerly Creek development across Dallas Street from Stanley.
Kim Soko Schaefer, project manager for Nourish, said the co-op behind the project is aiming for an opening date in 2018.
In the meantime, she said they are working to raise enough money for the project and to grow the ranks of their member-owners.
While co-op members receive dividends when they shop at the store, Schaefer said everybody will be welcome at Nourish, which will specialize in locally grown, pesticide-free produce.
“It is a store that anybody can shop at,” she said.
The market is one of three the co-op company has planned for metro Denver.
About 300 new homes are also planned for Aurora’s northwest area.
The Aurora neighborhood, part of Stapleton’s larger Bluff Lake neighborhood, will run along east 25th and 26th avenues for about 10 blocks, starting at Fulton Street.
The Aurora homes in Bluff Lake are expected to cost from the high $200,000s to $400,000s, and are under construction now, with buyers moving in next year.
Aurora Airbnbs ordered to obtain business licenses
Aurora officials concluded a year-long series of deliberations on how the city will regulate vacation rentals by owner this winter, firming up a requirement that local hosts on websites like Airbnb must obtain a city business license, among other stipulations.
City council voted 8-2 at a December meeting to approve an ordinance requiring homeowners interested in renting out their properties to include a business license number in their individual listing, proving they’ve complied with the new city law.
Council members Charlier Richardson, of Ward IV, and Renie Peterson, of Ward II, were the dissenters in the final vote.
Earlier this year, city staff clarified that all vacation rental hosts with an Aurora address must apply for a $38 business license and collect an 8-percent lodger’s tax from guests. Trevor Vaughn, manager for the city’s tax and licensing department, previously estimated the city could annually earn between $6,000 and $30,000 a year from the new lodger’s tax payments.
He estimated that there were about 180 listings for Aurora properties on Airbnb as of early December. He did not know, specifically, how many of those hosts have applied for business licenses.
Vaughn said that enforcement of the new rules has previously occurred on a complaint-only basis. He said he did not know of any hosts who have been caught violating the new Airbnb rules. Violations could result in a municipal summons, Vaughn said.
Aurora officials have said the vacation rental rules do not apply to rentals longer than 30 days. Those rentals are only required to be reported on a landlord’s tax returns.
Vaughn added that an individual Homeowner’s Association could bar a potential host from renting out their home using internet services.
The new ordinance requiring hosts to list the number of their business license will go into effect in early January.
2016 Aurora Prep Sports
While a number of teams found success in 2016, the most striking Aurora prep sports story of the year was the utter domination of Grandview senior Brie Oakley, who came into the season with just a few months of competitive running under her belt, but became unbeatable in any cross country race in or out of Colorado.
From a soccer player to national cross country champion, Oakley absolutely, positively completed the transformation in 2016.
After dominating state and regional championships, Oakley finished off her remarkable season with a national championship, winning the Nike Cross Nationals race in Portland in December. She crossed the finish line at the Glendoveer Golf Course in 17 minutes, 10.1 seconds to headline a strong Colorado showing against a 198-runner national field that also saw Fort Collins’ Lauren Gregory finish in third place.
Oakley won the first national cross country championship for a runner from an Aurora high school since former Smoky Hill star Katelyn Kaltenbach won the Foot Locker National Championship in 2003 in San Diego.
To win her national title, Oakley built a big lead by the two-mile mark and powered across the finish line with a comfortable 28-second cushion over Ember Stratton, who was running in her backyard in Portland. Gregory ended up 1.6 seconds behind Stratton in third.
Though Oakley didn’t race a complete schedule for Grandview, she won every time she laced up her shoes in 2016, starting with a massive victory in a memorable Aurora City Championship race that was ended mid-race due to lightning and rain in the area. She won the Centennial League championship, cruised to the 5A Region 4 title, took down Gregory — who was aiming for her fourth career state cross country crown — by a minute and a half and then won the Nike Southwest Regional, as well.
Along the way, Oakley committed to the University of California-Berkeley and signed her national athletic letter of intent in the early period.
Overland caps remarkable boys basketball season with second 5A state title
It was undoubtedly the finest season ever for boys basketball in every corner of Aurora, yet the road ended at Overland once again.
The Trailblazers continued to thrive on their mantra of “OVE” — “Overland vs. Everybody” — and brought home a second straight Class 5A state championship to end a season in which they had their fair share of doubters.
Coach Danny Fisher’s team survived a challenge from Centennial League rival Eaglecrest March 12 in an all-Aurora 5A state final at raucous Coors Events Center and finished off a 66-56 win to become the first 5A team to repeat since another Aurora program — Regis Jesuit — won three straight crowns from 2009 to 2011.
Considered a favorite to repeat coming into the season, with 6-foot-10 center De’Ron Davis back as part of a strong senior class and further bolstered by the return of Jervae Robinson and Tyler Stevenson, the Trailblazers got off to an undefeated start prior to winter break.
Included was winning the Platinum Division of the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas — where Overland beat teams from Florida, Nevada and Utah that went on to win championships in their respective states — and made the Trailblazers believe they could go through the season undefeated.
But Overland lost to Regis Jesuit in its first game out of winter break, fell again to Eaglecrest a short time later and then lost to Grandview Jan. 27 in a game that caused some to question their championship makeup.
Then, the Trailblazers caught fire at the end of the regular season, worked their way back into a tie in the final Centennial League standings with Eaglecrest and steamrolled through the playoffs like no other team — winning their five postseason contests by an average margin of 22 points.
It was the perfect ending to a season that saw Aurora take the hoops spotlight for virtually the entire season and back it up in the postseason. Three of the final four teams were from the city in Overland, Eaglecrest and Rangeview — which went undefeated all the way up to the semifinals before losing to Eaglecrest — while Regis Jesuit and Cherokee Trail gave Aurora five of the final eight teams and nine of the city’s 11 programs qualified for the postseason, including Vista PEAK, which made it to the 4A Sweet 16.
In other significant hoops events, Eaglecrest senior Colbey Ross was named Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and Aurora’s top 24 players participated in the inaugural A-Town All-Star Game presented by the Aurora Sentinel, an entertaining contest played at Aurora Central High School.
Grandview continues to build girls soccer dynasty with repeat 5A state crown
Defending a state championship is a lot more difficult than winning the first one, as the past 24 Class 5A girls state soccer winners found out.
Grandview became the exception, however, as the Wolves survived every challenge that came their way — including a tough test from Mountain Vista in 5A’s final May 25 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park — to become the first repeat champ in nearly 25 years.
Junior Avianne Burris’ goal with just under 20 minutes left stood as top-seeded Grandview held on for a 2-1 victory over the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles, completing an undefeated season and making them the first repeat champion in 5A girls soccer since Heritage in 1991 and 1992.
Even more impressively, Wood’s team — which finished the season 18-0-1 — stretched its unbeaten streak to 36 consecutive games. Grandview is 35-0-1 (with the one tie coming against Mountain Vista earlier this season) since a 1-0 loss to Columbine back on March 17, 2015.
Burris’ left-footed shot following senior Mandi Duggan’s deep penetration into the Mountain Vista defensive end put the Wolves back into the lead after the Golden Eagles (15-4-1) forged a tie when Haley Schueppert converted a penalty kick chance in the first half.
A valuable reserve and typically the first sub off Wood’s bench, Burris was ready for her chance when she arrived on the ball and lofted it over the head of Mountain Vista goalie Kylee Love.
Senior Melanie Jenkins had given the Wolves the early lead with a header goal in the 15th minute.
Grandview graduated some key seniors in the playmaking and Kansas-bound Duggan, Murray State signee Madalynn Germann and Jenkins, but expect to bring back much of the roster that was dominated by juniors and sophomores.
Hinkley boys track team finishes third; Aurora boys and girls claim 9 individual, relay championships
Aurora teams and athletes had another fantastic state track meet in May, as city boys and girls individual and relay teams brought home nine state titles from three days of competition at Jefferson County Stadium.
Grandview’s Brie Oakley set a 5A state meet record in winning the 3,200 meter run on the opening day and followed that with a victory in the 1,600 meters, while Jaiden Paris, Taylor Watson and Symonne Holland of Cherokee Trail also won two state titles as part of the Cougars’ victorious 4×100 and 4×200 meter relays. Sydnee Larkin ran a leg on one of those relays, in addition to winning the triple jump crown. Vista PEAK sophomore Maya Evans landed just one legal jump at the state meet, but it was enough to win the 4A long jump for a second straight year.
The Hinkley boys track team’s Aurora-best third-place finish in the team standings created quite a buzz, and it came on the strength of some outstanding individuals, topped by a pair of state champions in junior Darrien Wells (400 meters) and sophomore Angel Heredia (300 meter hurdles), who earned what is believed to be the program’s first state titles since the early 1990s and perhaps even longer on the boys side. Regis Jesuit’s Austin Campbell ended up on top of Cherokee Trail’s David Thornton in an all-Aurora battle of 5A boys high jump stars.
Grandview girls golf team wins first state title
Morgan Sahm and Mary Weinstein spent the second round of the Class 5A girls state golf tournament laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
The Aurora senior standouts — from Grandview and Regis Jesuit, respectively — have known each other since they were 10 and got to play together in the final group May 24 at CommonGround Golf Course.
In the end, both had reasons to smile as Weinstein won the 5A individual state championship and Sahm’s Wolves captured their first 5A state team championship. It was the first time since 2010 that Aurora schools produced an individual (Overland’s Somin Lee in 5A) and team champion (Regis Jesuit in 4A) in the same season.
With the exception of some missed putts on the final hole —which weren’t a threat to the big lead she’d built — Weinstein put on a clinic to become Regis Jesuit’s first individual champion. She topped the Raiders’ previous best individual finish of second accomplished twice by Kathleen Kershisnik (2009 and 2012) and in 2015 by Sydney Gillespie, who finished as the runner-up in a rain-shortened tournament.
Raiders capture second boys lacrosse state title in 3 years
The Regis Jesuit boys lacrosse team is full of developing young talent, but it was its senior backbone which delivered the Raiders a Class 5A state championship.
With momentum shifting over to an explosive Arapahoe team in the fourth quarter of the state title game May 20 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, senior Joey Chott scored two key goals to put the Raiders back on track in an 11-5 victory.
Senior Mikey Bealer recorded a hat trick in the opening quarter to get Regis Jesuit off and running and coach Jim Soran’s Raiders lived up to their season motto of “Finish” by keeping the Warriors at bay the rest of the way en route to the program’s second state title in three seasons, and third all-time.
Chott joined Bealer with three goals and Alec Barnes had a pair as seniors accounted for eight of the scores for Regis Jesuit (17-2), which finished the season on an 11-game winning streak.
Regis Jesuit boys golf team repeats as 5A state champs; Eaglecrest’s Davis Bryant makes run at individual title
A dramatic final day at the Class 5A boys state golf tournament Sept. 27 saw plenty of hardware end up in the hands of golfers from Aurora programs.
For the second straight season, Regis Jesuit got to hoist the 5A state championship trophy in the same manner, with a victory by a single stroke.
In 2015, it was Coronado and Lakewood that finished one shot behind the Raiders, but over two days of play at Bookcliff Country Club, it turned out to be Continental League rival Highlands Ranch that gave coach Craig Rogers’ team the biggest run for the crown. The Raiders group of seniors Tyler Zhang and Justin Markel, and juniors Cal McCoy and Drew Anderson, held off the Falcons by a single stroke.
Junior Davis Bryant posted the best-ever finish for Eaglecrest as he came in second individually, putting himself in contention for the state title before Highlands Ranch’s Kyle Pearson pulled away.
McKensi Austin wins third diving title with Regis Jesuit
Though she ends her prep career with three Class 5A state diving championships, the sweetest was easy to pick for Regis Jesuit’s McKensi Austin.
For many reasons, her senior title — which she won by a whopping 72-point margin Feb. 13 at the Edora Pool & Ice Center in Fort Collins — stands out in the midst of a lot of winning at the prep level.
The consistent, supremely focused University of Georgia signee racked up 539.90 points to win handily over the other 15 divers in the finals. Austin combined with sophomore teammate Anne Marie Kenny (who placed sixth) to give Regis Jesuit key points it needed to finish second as a team, and she later received 5A Diver of the Year honors as selected by state coaches.
Austin was the class of the state from the start, so her championship title wasn’t unexpected. But the presence of first-year diving coach Taylor Roberts to witness the performance made the experience extra special.
Just six weeks removed from suffering a heart attack at 30 years of age, Roberts made his way on the deck to watch Austin’s accomplishment — much as he’d witnessed Kyle Goodwin win an unprecedented fourth boys diving championship for Regis Jesuit in May.