SNOWMASS VILLAGE - A request to use parking in town-owned lots sparked a debate Dec. 3 about private use of public land.
The Roaring Fork Club of Basalt, which formerly shuttled guests to the Silvertree Hotel for ski outings, is looking to open a similar operation at Timberline Condominiums. The club is requesting to convert a portion of lot 13 to use for its valet parking and obtain 30 permits for lots 10 through 12, normally offered to the public, for its guests to use.
There is some private use already. The town owns those lots after acquiring them when the Snowmass Village Resort Association was dissolved and agreed to certain limitations of their use. The town has never allowed exclusive use of space in the numbered lots in winter. It releases some passes, but in the municipal code those are specified to be for individual motorists, not a business.
The town could alter the code to allow for a transferrable pass for a commercial purpose. Transportation director David Peckler said the number of permits he would feel comfortable issuing is 30, and that staff strongly recommends those be focused on lot 11.
The council's reaction
After the initial presentation, Councilman Fred Kucker immediately took issue with the appropriateness of the request.
"You're asking us to take away 30 parking spaces from the public and dedicate them to a private, for-profit entity for the sole and exclusive use of that entity's members so that that entity can make money," he said. "I don't think we should be in the business of underwriting private entities."
He also expressed concern about setting a precedent, saying there's nothing to prevent other private entities from making similar requests, and about traffic congestion.
Mayor Bill Boineau had similar worries.
"When I heard about this to me it was like, what's going to prevent myself from coming in and saying, as Fred says, 'I want to start a valet package,'" Boineau said. "It speaks to me in wintertime when we need these spaces to be more of a problem."
"I think that maybe another way to frame the question is looking at this as a commercial use versus residential," said Jim Light, co-creator of the club. "(The lots have) been there for commercial purposes."
Why they want the spaces
The Roaring Fork Club, and the Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge operation in Snowmass, is a private club that members pay dues to join. Members include valley residents as well as national and international visitors.
Light said the club does not believe it's violating the town code or the SVRA agreement. He said it's looking for a practical solution, and added that "it seems more environmentally appropriate to not send every car to the chapel."
In the past, the lodge parked some valeted cars in the chapel lot. Light said it seemed impractical to do that on days when there are open spaces in lots closer by.
Kucker pointed out that the lots are reserved for commercial use by people staying, living or shopping Snowmass and that the town has a duty to respect those people.
"I'm not so sure we feel the same obligation toward the mountain club," he said.
The council voted 3-2 as landowner to allow the town's land to be included in the application. Then the officials heard the application for a one-year temporary use permit of the land and opened the public hearing.
Mary Harris, general manager of the Timberline, said she sees the club as positive for business in Snowmass.
"It is so important that we make every single person, whether they're here for an hour or they're here for three weeks, feel special," she said.
Harris said the plan is for the Edge restaurant at Timberline to open for breakfast, lunch and dinner if the Mountain Lodge can operate there, and the public would be able to dine during those hours too. She said if the Lodge doesn't come in, the Edge will only serve dinner.
Current club membership is approximately 210. Club member Becket Becnel stood up and pointed out that that number means that many families.
"We're talking 100 days that you could lose this many spending tourists," Becnel said.
What the public thinks
Most members of the public present spoke in favor of the Mountain Lodge, including John Henschel, of Incline, who said merchants in town spoke positively of club customers.
"These people are affluent people, they come from all over the nation, all over the world," he said. "These people spend money."
However, Dave Spence, of Destination Resorts, was worried about losing parking for his company's lodges, which include Top of the Village, Laurelwood and the Stonebridge Inn.
"The lodging is very dependent on the availability of those lots," Spence said. "This is a use that is very different of anything that was ever anticipated."
Lots lower down will fill up faster if residents find the upper lots full, Spence said.
Councilwoman Markey Butler made a motion to approve so that the discussion could return to the council. The officials' statements were mostly negative.
"I think this is an increase in the intensity of the use at the Timberline," said Councilman Jason Haber. "This is certainly going to improve use of those parking spaces. It troubles me a little bit that we haven't engaged those users (other lodges) in terms of the agreement."
Council reopened the public hearing, and Light said the lodge needed an immediate direction from council. Boineau suggested that Light consider changing the request to only include four spaces for valet parking. The lodge would then park the cars in an off-site location.
"This last proposal puts my concerns at ease," Spence said.
Boineau continued the public hearing to Dec. 10, when a special meeting is scheduled.