Aspen Times Editorial: Lift One ballot question carries too much baggage
There is a classic scene in the Monty Python movie “The Meaning of Life” where a very large man shovels in a very large meal at a restaurant. Upon finishing his meal, the waiter tempts him with dessert. The fat man initially resists but gives in when the waiter teases that it is just a wafer thin mint. The fat man eats it and promptly explodes from overindulgence.
Aspen, we fear, faces the predicament of the fat man with the Lift One Corridor Plan.
City voters will be asked March 5 to cast ballots on a multi-faceted proposal that would add 320,000 square feet of development at and around the base of Lift 1A. The proposal includes the Lift One Lodge with 34 fractional ownership and six full-ownership units in 107,000 square feet and the Gorsuch Haus at 81 hotel rooms in a 64,000-square-foot building. Combined, they would bring 185 keys to Aspen’s lodging inventory. Both facilities will include bars and restaurants open to the public.
The plan also would bring a replacement for Lift 1A downhill another 500 feet to make it accessible from Dean Street. The Skiers Chalet would be resurrected as a ski museum to showcase Aspen’s rich skiing heritage. There would be parks and open space comparable in size to Wagner Park.
The Aspen Times editorial board urges a “no” vote on the question. It is our fundamental belief that Aspen must do more to address its shortage of affordable housing. It’s a belief we share with many residents.
We realize the plan provides benefits such as revitalization of the west side of the mountain and a lift that comes farther into town, but the costs associated with the project as proposed outweigh the benefits. This plan is no wafer thin mint.
Everyone who lives in, works at and visits Aspen realizes the two-headed monster of traffic congestion and lack of affordable housing bedevils the town. The Lift One Corridor Plan would add to those problems.
The developers of both properties are using a provision of the city land-use code that allows for less employee housing mitigation to coax development of high-density tourist lodging. Lift One Lodge will generate an estimated need for 100 employees while Gorsuch Haus will require between 65 and 80, representatives of the developers have said. Combined, they are providing housing for 67 workers. That leaves a shortfall of housing for between 98 and 113 employees.
City officials have said easing the affordable-housing mitigation was discretionary and didn’t have to be granted. It was a flaw on the city’s part to reduce the amount of housing developers were required to provide.
The developers point out that the projects will raise an estimated $42 million in housing sales tax revenue and real estate transfer assessment fees over the next 30 years — more than enough to offset that deficit of housing for 113 employees. But those funds are a long-term solution to an immediate problem.
The final draft of a housing needs assessment for the Roaring Fork Valley region was released earlier this month. In 2017, “unmet demand for approximately 3,000 housing units was being generated in Aspen and Snowmass Village,” the study said. The housing deficit is expected to increase to 3,400 units by 2027, according to the study.
As a result, Aspen and Snowmass Village currently import 7,500 workers per day from locations farther downvalley, the study said. Adding 180 employees and housing 67 of them in Aspen creates a greater strain on the valley’s transit system. Hopefully some of those workers would ride the bus. But past studies of commuting practices show that some of those employees will drive.
We realize that development of some sort will occur at the Lift One base and that construction traffic comes with the territory. However, the project as proposed would generate nearly 11,000 dump truck trips just for the earth-moving portion of construction, according to the city staff. Given Aspen’s ongoing traffic issues, we believe the community would benefit from a scaled back project and an enforceable plan by the city to mitigate that construction traffic as much as possible.
Once completed, the project would add to Aspen’s traffic congestion to some degree through guests arriving and departing the hotels rooms and condos. That also comes with the territory when there are 185 keys for tourist accommodations. While the developers might make every effort to encourage guests to use shuttles between the airport and the properties, for example, they also realize a sizable number of people will drive. The developers are building a parking garage with 182 spaces for their use along with 50 spaces for public use.
Nearly all of Aspen’s elected officials and many voters bemoan too much traffic and too little affordable housing. The city has a responsibility to address those problems through its own actions and through its requirements for development. It cannot continue approving projects like the Lift One Corridor Plan without making progress on housing and traffic. A good start would be for the city to eliminate the provision that allows less housing mitigation for new lodges of the type proposed with this project.
If voters reject the ballot question, we would want to see a scaled-down project that creates more affordable housing and less traffic.
Lift One Lodge will revert to its 2011 approvals, which includes a design that won’t allow the Lift 1A replacement to extend downhill. That prior approval requires the lodge to provide housing for all employees. Lift One Lodge would have to be underway with construction by 2021 because its approvals are vested for 10 years.
The team behind Gorsuch Haus said they would be back to square one with their proposal if there is a “no” vote March 5. We believe a smaller hotel would be appropriate for the site and that the reworked project should provide housing for more of its employees.
We acknowledge that a “no” vote results in a less desirable alternative for the replacement of Lift 1A. The lower terminal would remain at about the same elevation it is today rather than 500 feet farther downslope. However, we don’t believe securing the lift down at Dean Street is worth approving these two large properties as proposed, with so little housing mitigation.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.
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