Aspen City Council asks for larger project near Lift 1
The Aspen Times
In recent years, the Aspen City Council generally has gone to great pains to ask developers for smaller projects, with mixed results.
Monday’s meeting turned the trend on its head, with a majority of council members wanting more from a proposal that aims to build townhouses and affordable-housing units in the neighborhood near Lift 1 at the base of Aspen Mountain, just west of downtown.
ASV Aspen Street Owners, represented by David Parker, of Bald Mountain Development, has a plan to build 14 free-market residential units and 10 affordable-housing units on three parcels of land on South Aspen Street near Deane and Gilbert streets.
The same development company unsuccessfully pitched to the last year’s council — the new council has three new members and a new mayor — a mixed-use project for the site, with a hotel and free-market residential components. The company already has city approval, provided from the 2003 council to the former property owner, for 14 free-market and 17 affordable-housing units, but some of those work-force-housing units would be built off site.
Last year’s council, led by then-Mayor Mick Ireland, wanted the hotel-townhome hybrid to be scaled down. The developer then withdrew the application, saying the only way to make a new hotel economically feasible in Aspen would be to build it to a certain size: 75 to 100 rooms and four to five stories tall.
Though many neighbors who spoke Monday said they preferred the latest plan because it didn’t encroach as much on their dwellings and it preserved their mountain views, Mayor Steve Skadron didn’t, nor did new council members Ann Mullins and Art Daily, but for different reasons. Generally, Mullins and Daily agreed with city Community Development Department staff’s belief that the area could use more affordable-housing components and that greater density in the sparsely populated neighborhood would be a good fit.
Early in the meeting, Skadron said he wasn’t sure what would be best for the site.
“I’ve seen this for nine years, … and I know how hard you’ve worked on this,” Skadron said. “Quite frankly, I like what’s there now — nothing — better than what’s proposed. I think it’s open and organic and accessible and raw and venerable. I think it’s like sitting in the Wheeler balcony or dropping into Steeplechase on a powder day — that’s what I think about Lift 1.”
Skadron added that the new version of development for the site was predictable and interchangeable, something that could be seen in any other community.
Earlier, the developers touted the scaled-back version of their project, pointing out that mountain view-planes were improved, projected traffic impacts would be far less than what was approved in 2003, large walls surrounding the development were shortened and neighborhood support had increased.
Mullins said that it was unfortunate that a hotel project could not be assimilated into the project. She said the developer and the city ought to take a step back from the revised plan, adding that it would be better to have greater density and more affordable-housing units as a way of adding vitality to the neighborhood.
“I think this would be density at the expense of quality of life,” he said.
Daily said the difficulty lies in balancing competing interests. He said the plan was a “thoughtful revision” of the 2003 version, and he liked the developer’s outreach to the community.
However, he said, the plan also represents an “underutilization” of a key piece of land, adding that it was too “minimalist” and “suburban.” Daily asked Parker if the development team could go back to the drawing board and return in two weeks with something “slightly larger.”
Dwayne Romero, who was selected last week as a two-year appointment to the seat Skadron vacated when he became mayor, said he liked the fact that all of the affordable-housing units would be on the site, a departure from the old plan. However, he raised concerns about Skadron’s request to the developer to reserve part of the property for a future hotel by condensing the project into a smaller chunk of land.
Romero said he doesn’t believe there is community consensus for a new hotel in the Lift 1 area.
Parker noted that the developers badly wanted a hotel for the property but agonized over the economic aspects of trying to provide what the former council and the community wanted.
“Our true goal was to get a hotel, but we just couldn’t make it work,” he said.
The developer will return to the council’s July 22 regular meeting for more discussions.
In other business:
• Romero was sworn into the council. He will serve 23 months in Skadron’s old seat. Afterward, Councilman Adam Frisch, who is midway through his four-year term, remarked that he thought the new council would be “drama free.”
• With no discussion, the council unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance to increase the maximum fine that can be imposed for municipal-code violations. The City Attorney’s Office asked that it be raised from $1,000 to $2,650. The increase wouldn’t become official until the council holds a public hearing on the matter and votes on it again July 22.
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the descent that poses a challenge.