Base plan for Ajax nears finish line
August 19, 2008
ASPEN ” A group of 27 people has less than 24 hours together to agree on how arguably the most important piece of property in downtown Aspen should be developed.
The Lift One task force has six more meetings before its deadline to make a recommendation to the Aspen City Council on a master plan for the base development of the western portal of Aspen Mountain. The group, which has been meeting since April, has a Sept. 25 deadline to agree on a formal recommendation. A six-month time frame was agreed upon largely because two major property owners in the area plan to develop their properties.
Centurion Partners, which owns the property where the Mine Dump Apartments used to be on South Aspen Street, has approval to build 17 townhomes but has entered into the master planning process in hopes a hotel will gain approval. Centurion, represented by company partner John Sarpa, was shot down last year by the council for the Lodge at Aspen Mountain development proposal.
Across the street, David Wilhelm, Jim Light and Jim Chaffin own the property where the defunct Holland House and Skiers Chalet lodges are located.
Those developers, represented by Bob Daniel, were proposing the 114,000-square-foot Lift One Lodge below Lift 1A. That application has since been pulled while the task force does its work.
The task force and city officials recognize any further delay will result in significant economic losses for the developers, who voluntarily agreed to be part of a bigger plan for the benefit of the community.
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The group is the driving force in creating a comprehensive development program for the ski area’s base, which sees only 3 percent of visitors using that side of the mountain as a portal. The rest use the Silver Queen Gondola to get up the mountain.
The end result will be a blueprint of what kind of lodging, affordable housing, community and skier amenities, and other development aspects will be in the historic Lift One neighborhood ” the original portal to Aspen Mountain.
Task force members ” who all have various stakes in the base development ” expect the next six weeks to become a bit dicey as sacrifices and concessions will have to be made so amenities can all fit into an 8-acre area.
“I think our good relations [thus far] will be put to good use since nobody will come out of this getting everything they wanted when we began this,” Sarpa told the council Monday during an update.
Aspen Chamber Resort Association President Debbie Braun said group members have been diligent in working together and keeping their personal preferences by the wayside in hopes for comprehensive plan.
“People have kept the swords at the door, but we’re beginning to see people’s true colors come out,” she said about the trade-offs that will be considered and eventually decided upon. “The rubber meets the road right here and now.”
The task force so far has agreed on several sketch plans that include an escalator or pedestrian mover that leads to the base of the 1A chairlift; an auto-free road centered in the middle of two lodging developments; and a vehicle road that loops through the area, starting on Garmich Street, leading to Juan Street and then cutting through the development.
The group favors making Dean Street pedestrian-only all the way to the gondola, or perhaps using it for a trolley that would bring skiers and snowboarders to both sides of the mountain.
Other concepts include skiing down the center between the two lodges; using the historic buildings in the area for ticket offices and other mountain base functions, as well as putting most of the affordable housing off-site and having a minimal amount on-site to accommodate employees who would operate the properties. An underground parking garage also is being discussed as a potential solution for the area.
It’s hoped that the task force’s recommendation will serve as the land-use application that will be reviewed and voted on by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council.
The next task force meeting is 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday on the fifth floor in the Mountain Chalet.