Mayor Steve Skadron voiced concerns on July 14 as the Aspen City Council prepared for an Aug. 25 public hearing on the Dancing Bear Aspen’s proposal to build an 80-foot pedestrian tunnel underneath Durant Avenue.
The 8-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide tunnel would serve as a passageway for the residence club’s fractional owners and employees. Skadron asked if the city should be requesting something in return for a project that appears to benefit only Dancing Bear clients. He cited the Dancing Bear’s digital ad behind the luggage racks at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, which mentions “reinventing Aspen.”
“If by reinvention, do they mean putting pedestrians underground, say, to not see the mountains?” Skadron asked city staff as he explained what information he needs for Aug. 25, when an official vote is expected. “Is that the direction we’re going? I’d like to know what the Dancing Bear has planned because this is quite a departure from things we’ve ever done.”
Teddy Farrell, of Sunrise Co., the group that bought the Monarch Street property two years ago, said the intent is not to redefine Aspen by putting people underground. Rather, it is to provide an amenity for residents while also alleviating pedestrian-safety issues along Durant Avenue. During high season, Farrell anticipates between 1,500 and 1,700 pedestrian trips across the street as well as 400 bus trips.
“We’re trying to keep our clients off the street for their own safety and the safety of the rest of the public,” Farrell said. “The intent is not to take people off the street. People are still going to be walking the streets, and going shopping and skiing. This isn’t a maze underneath the city of Aspen. It’s just a tunnel to connect the two (phases of Dancing Bear).”
Phase I — completed in 2009 at 411 S. Monarch St., features 72 one-eighth shares across nine units. Phase II — a project that stalled in the middle of construction in 2010 under a previous owner — is set to resume this month on the lot formerly occupied by the Chart House restaurant. The second phase is expected to create 88 fractional interests across 11 units.
Councilman Dwayne Romero said that for the Aug. 25 second reading, he would like to know what utility work will be involved. He asked if there will be any major relocation of utility lines.
Farrell said the original intent was to not touch any city utilities, as the underpass is two floors below ground and will never be less then 11 feet from the bottom of Durant. However, the city’s Water Department has requested that the Dancing Bear replace two water lines as part of the agreement, Farrell said.
Skadron, who also inquired about utility work, asked if the city is losing public space by granting the application.
“Is this an appropriate use of public right of way?” he asked.
City Planner Hillary Seminick said that if approved, the tunnel would require subterranean use of public right of way.