Vision for base of Ajax becomes clear
August 23, 2008
ASPEN ” The group in charge of designing a master plan for the base of Lift 1A at Aspen Mountain envisions underground tunnels, a ski path into town and a swath of green space flowing through hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial and lodging space.
The Lift One Task Force, which comprises 27 citizens, agreed Thursday to move forward with a redevelopment plan that would vacate Gilbert Street so an underground tunnel dedicated for service vehicles would serve two new hotels. A portion of Juan Street also would be turned into an underground tunnel for pedestrians.
There also would be three zones to enter the area ” a ski path under the historic Lift One area to Dean Street, and to the west of that, a dedicated pedestrian walkway that would include a people-mover such as a covered escalator with a sidewalk next to it, as well as a vehicle-only road on South Aspen Street where cars and some sort of mass transit element like a trolley would bring people to the base of the mountain. In between the pedestrian and vehicular areas would be a green belt that would serve as a public area.
The task force’s agreed-upon vision is a key step forward for the group, which has been meeting since April to hash out how to redevelop the 8-acre base ” arguably one of the most important pieces of downtown Aspen to be developed.
The deadline for the group to make a recommendation to the Aspen City Council is Sept. 25 and up until this week, the task force didn’t have a solidified site plan that accommodated two large hotels, affordable housing, parking garages, a ski museum, shops, restaurants and a host of other amenities.
“We’ve got to get something down to agree on; there are trade-offs here,” Poss Architect principal Stephen Holley told the group.
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The developers of two hotels proposed in the area said agreement on a site plan is critical in order for them to move forward with a proforma that can be turned into a land-use application.
“We need to agree on this thing or something else … because it’s too frickin complex,” said John Sarpa, a partner with Centurion Partners, which is proposing a large hotel on South Aspen Street.
The new site plan concept was created by a team of architects at Poss Architecture and presented by Holley, who took the task force’s comments from previous meetings to design an area that attempts to meet the needs of all the landowners and residents in the area.
“I think this is a reasonable plan,” said task force member Allyn Harvey. “I think as a community, the green space is what we are going to hang our hat on.”
While there are many details to hash out ” such as how vehicles will get to the proposed 114,000-square-foot Lift One Lodge to be located below the current Lift 1A chairlift, or what kind transportation system will bring people up the steep South Aspen Street ” the latest plan appears to accommodate most everyone.
However, residents in the area are concerned about impacts of the development, specifically the traffic it would create.
Glenn Monigle, who lives near Gilbert Street, said the road isn’t wide enough for delivery trucks and is impassable during the winter. If the redevelopment requires eliminating that street from general traffic, a lawsuit surely will ensue, he added.
“The owners on both sides of the street will go to war with you guys,” Monigle said.
John Starr, who lives on South Aspen Street, said the steep road is plagued with problems and making that the only way to drive up to the base of the mountain will cause too much traffic in the area.
“I’m being very NIMBY here,” he said, adding the traffic burden should be shared in other areas like Garmisch Street.
Under the latest vision, there would be one point of entry at South Aspen Street, the beginning of which would be moved farther up the hill by Dean Street ” near the entrance of Sarpa’s hotel. The street also would be moved 40 feet to the west, encroaching on Centurion’s property. Sarpa said he was agreeable to consider the suggestion.
The hub of activity is envisioned to be centered around the Willoughby Park area, near the Skier’s Chalet and Steakhouse. Those historic buildings could occupy a ski museum and skier services. Interspersed would be restaurants and commercial space.
The group is concerned about what modes of transportation will be used but task force members agreed that making sure the configuration of the site plan works for all uses is the first priority. Transportation options likely will be a policy decision by the City Council, task force members suggested.
Parking would be located under both hotels and possibly under Willoughby Park.
Once at the top of South Aspen Street, people would likely take an escalator to the base of Lift 1A, which is proposed to be moved farther uphill for repeat skiing.
Task force member Mark Cole said the centerpiece of the area could be the entry point while others believe it will be the green space. Whatever it becomes, Cole said Holley’s design is a good basis in which to start fine tuning the development program.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” he said, adding concessions and trade-offs are imminent from those affected by the development. “We have a vision; it may not be the vision everyone wants.”
Holley and his design team will draw up a detailed site plan and present it at the task force’s next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 28, at 11 a.m. in the Hines Room at the Aspen Meadows.