Hotel begins review amid controversy | AspenTimes.com

Hotel begins review amid controversy

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Two City Council members recused themselves Monday from reviewing a proposed new hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain, while Councilman Terry Paulson blamed the Aspen Skiing Co. for potentially tainting the review process.

Paulson urged the council to wait until after the May election to take up conceptual plans for the Residences at Little Nell in light of the Skico’s recent endorsement of three council members. The Skico is expected to manage the new hotel.

“I think the ski company flubbed up,” Paulson said. “I do think it puts a weird light on this project.”

The Skico sent out letters to its employees last week, endorsing Mayor Helen Klanderud, Councilmen Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe, and council hopeful Rachel Richards.

Hershey, a Skico employee, recused himself on that basis. McCabe also stepped away from the review in light of the Skico endorsement.

“I look at it from the perspective of the appearance of a conflict of interest, which is something we are counseled to avoid,” McCabe said. “The appearance may well be there. I’m going to err on the side of caution. I’m going to step back.”

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Klanderud said the endorsement would not affect her ability to judge the project impartially and refused to recuse herself. She criticized Paulson, one of her opponents in the mayoral race, for trying to throw up a roadblock in order to delay a decision.

“This is hardly the way, I think, to move this community forward … finding a way to throw a monkey wrench into this decision is doing a disservice to this community,” she said.

She also reminded Paulson that he participated in discussions of the Super Block project, a failed redevelopment proposal that involved the City Market building, when he was an employee at the grocery store.

Ron Erickson, a former member of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission, also had harsh words for Paulson.

“I happen to believe in your integrity to make the right decision,” he told the council. “I think what Terry is talking about is basically bullshit.”

Nonetheless, with a quorum of just three council members willing to hear the conceptual application – Paulson, Klanderud and Councilman Tim Semrau – the applicants weren’t sure whether to proceed or not.

“This obviously comes as a shock to us,” said Brooke Peterson, representing Aspen Land Fund LLC.

The development team met in private for some lengthy discussions, but ultimately asked the council to go ahead and open last night’s public hearing and then continue the proceedings to April 28, when they’ll make their presentation.

Had the council not convened the hearing Monday, the applicants would have had to publish new notices and then wait another 30 days to get their conceptual application before the council.

“If we delay this any longer, we have severe financial issues,” Peterson said. “It just doesn’t make sense for us to delay the opening of the hearing.”

Paulson voted against opening the hearing, with Klanderud and Semrau agreeing to go forward.

The Residences at Little Nell is proposed to replace several buildings bordering the slope of the Little Nell ski run, including the former Tippler Nightclub/Italian Caviar building, the Tipple Inn Condominiums and Tipple Lodge.

A group of investors have organized Aspen Land Fund LLC and have options to purchase the properties in order to pursue their plans for the luxury timeshare hotel. The proposed project includes 24 timeshare suites, to be sold in one-seventh shares, eight standard lodge rooms and about 9,700 square feet of commercial space.

Eight, on-site affordable housing units are proposed for the hotel, along with housing at an as-yet-unidentified site.

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