A real estate deal by any other name
The Aspen City Council has given “conceptual approval” to the Aspen Club’s proposal to redevelop their property, changing the zoning from rural residential to some greater form of commercial. Many people do not realize that they are asking to build 20 townhomes, in 16th shares, on the tennis courts, 12 affordable-housing units and 133 parking spaces, all accessible from Ute Ave. The timeshares could be further divided by “lock-off” rooms. They would be able to operate the fractional units as “hotbeds,” or nightly rental units ” in other words, a hotel facility. Once they actually get this approval, there is nothing to prevent them from selling the club to another developer or hotel operator.
The zoning of this area is, and has been, rural residential. The current owners purchased the property for $5.5 million in 1997. They knew what the zoning was. It is not the obligation of the City Council to make the Aspen Club a more profitable venture.
The City Council well knows of prior instances where approvals have been given to projects and the apparently sincere applicant has walked, as in Dick Butera’s 1996 project. This project has been submitted as a “locally owned” and operated business. At the City Council meeting on July 14, the local owner, Michael Fox, acknowledged that he actually owns only 35 percent of the club. Moreover, Michael himself only moved to Aspen a couple of years ago, after his first attempt at this expansion was turned down by the council, and we can have no assurances that he would remain afterward as a local owner.
It is with the utmost respect that we acknowledge all the good projects he has put before the town during the last two years, while also attempting to convince the city government of the benefits of his proposal. The council meeting was packed with an Olympic athlete, physical therapists, concierges from local hotels and activists from several special interest groups. All had accolades for Michael and the club. But when queried about why they are supporting this project, most supporters answered that “they don’t want to lose the club.” This is the implied threat ” that they will close if they don’t get permission.
However, the elephant in the room that no one could apparently see was this question: What assurances does the city have that Michael and his investors will even be here after approvals are given? NONE. Folks: THIS IS A REAL ESTATE DEAL. There is absolutely no connection between this real estate deal and the survival of the Aspen Club, except that which has been conjured by Michael’s public relations machine.
Last Sunday, Tim Cooney wrote in the “Soapbox” column of the “danger of the first intrusion of a commercial lodging into a residential neighborhood, rather than corralling lodging in the city core, as is the status quo.” This project will have a horrific impact on the Ute corridor, make the developers tens of millions and leave the east end of the city a mess! Don’t do it!
Linda and Gary Nathanson
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The city of Aspen is supposed to break ground on 300-plus housing units in 2024 but if Monday’s meeting with elected officials is any indication, the project could take years before coming online.