Hotel Aspen gets continuance; owners may walk away from project
February 26, 2014
It is unclear if the owners of Hotel Aspen will continue efforts to renovate their lodge, after the Aspen City Council voted to continue the application to March on Monday.
At least 26 people spoke during the public comment portion of the four-hour discussion. Many individuals in the hotel and hospitality spoke in favor of the project, calling it the type of project Aspen is going to need to buy into if it wants mid-priced lodges to remain viable. Meanwhile, various neighbors spoke against the hotel, saying it is massively out of character with the surrounding Bleeker Street neighborhood.
Original plans called for four free-market residential units in the form of two duplexes, sized at 3,275 square feet and 3,675 square feet. The most recent plan reduced the number of free-market units from four to three, increasing the net liveable area for each individual residential unit to 5,000 square feet. In its recommendation, city staff said the project is headed in the right direction but the applicant still needs to reduce the overall cumulative floor space.
The four council members present were divided on whether to approve the project as is, with councilmen Dwayne Romero and Adam Frisch in support and Mayor Steve Skadron and council member Art Daily agreeing with neighbors that the renovation is too big. Councilwoman Ann Mullins recused herself.
Hotel Aspen co-owner Michael Brown, appearing with his brother and business partner Aaron, said the current proposal, which has been 2 1/2 years in the making, is the best they could come up with. Near the end of the meeting, he said they will have to walk away from the project if it is continued, because they can't afford to waste any more time and money, or throw "good money for bad," as Aaron described it. Before motioning for a vote, Romero pleaded with the Browns to use the two-week continuance to work out another plan.
Daily proposed that the Browns knock the third floor off the three free market units and reduce floor space to 8,000 total square feet. While the Browns said that is not economically feasible, community development director suggested creating shorter and fatter units closer to the 10,500 square feet proposed.
"If we could reduce it to a two-story building, I'd gladly do it," Michael Brown said. "Maybe somebody who wanted to take on a greater deal of risk and potentially lose their hotel and not be in that business might make that decision. If I had an ace in the hole to pull it out and say I could give you that off, and we could have a development that I could sleep at night and honestly feel like I wasn't jeopardizing 15 years I've been in this hotel, I would do it. … I can't go back to the drawing board any further in terms of density."
The issue at the heart of the proposal is a common one in Aspen: How does the city find the balance between including a free-market residential component that makes the project economically viable for the applicant, while keeping in step with the character of the surrounding neighborhood?
Public hearing on the ordinance was continued to March 10.