Aspen City Council begins to consider Lift 1A corridor
November 12, 2018
After years of proposals and false starts, the Aspen City Council on Monday began reviewing a comprehensive plan to open up skiing access on the western side of Aspen Mountain.
"This has been a long and arduous process," Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said at the beginning of the evening.
Council members heard numerous presentations from applicants, city planners, city parks staff and the Aspen Skiing Co. regarding two lodge-development applications for the Lift 1A corridor.
Those presentations took more than four hours, pushing public comment late into the evening for those who attended — the council chambers were standing-room-only for much of the night.
Skadron reminded those in attendance that the land-use hearing on the Lift 1A corridor will be continued until Nov. 26, when public comment also will be taken. During the public comment session, which didn't start until after 9:30 p.m., Aspen Olympic freestyle skier Alex Ferreira spoke up to support the plan.
"My first City Council meeting, five hours long, wow," he said. "I'm here in favor of this project … and hoping the City Council can make this happen."
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Ferreira said that during the 2017 World Cup Finals he heard some of the athletes complain about the slow speed of the 1A lift.
"I can tell you sitting on a cold lift before going to the best run of your life can be difficult," said Ferreira, who won a silver medal in February in ski halfpipe. "This new lift would help in bringing the town the chance to host more high-profile events."
Monday's meeting was the first time the City Council has addressed both lodge projects since the entire Lift 1A Corridor Project was reconfigured based on a request by council members last year to bring the newly designed chairlift 500 feet farther down the hill to Dean Street.
"I think a lot of great work has been done on that standpoint," Councilman Adam Frisch said of the chairlift changes.
He did voice concerns that the new lift be built in the time promised if the hotel projects are slowed by financial constraints or other issues.
"I think that is my No. 1 concern," he said.
The changes to the lift required developers of the two lodges to reconfigure their buildings to accommodate the longer and wider skiing corridor.
The Gorsuch Haus proposal currently calls for a 64,000-square-foot hotel with 81 rooms, four free-market units, one affordable-housing unit and 7,700 square feet of commercial space. It is expected to be about 40 feet tall, though a stairway will be 6 to 7 feet higher than that, said Mike Kraemer, city planner.
Lift One Lodge has been approved for 199,000 square feet of lodge and commercial space, though developers want to increase that by 3,000 square feet. The lodge would have 104 rooms as well as six free-market units and one affordable-housing unit. That lodge has been approved for a 53-foot maximum height, though an elevator shaft is expected to be 68 feet tall, Garrow said.
Both lodges are asking the City Council to lower the amount of employee housing mitigation each would be required to provide by waiving the free-market portion of the mitigation requirements. That means instead of mitigating for 59.79 full-time employees, Lift One Lodge would instead mitigate for 46.11, while Gorsuch Haus would mitigate for 21.68 full-time employees instead of 26.32.
Lift One Lodge is expected to generate about 150 full-time employees, while Gorsuch is expected to generate about 87 full-time employees, Garrow said.
The combined scale of the two lodges will "transform the west side of Aspen Mountain and their adjacent neighborhood in fundamental ways," according to a memo to council from Jessica Garrow, the city's Community Development director.
"The impacts of both projects, whether to mountain views, traffic and parking, construction noise and disturbance, or skier experience need to be carefully understood and thoroughly evaluated," Garrow wrote in the memo. "While staff believes that there are issues with both projects that need further discussion, … the projects substantially comply with the land-use code."
The new lift and the lodge developments will affect city-owned property, including the reconfiguration of city park land, the memo states. City voters also would have to weigh in if approvals trigger Referendum 1 requirements — which would happen if the lodges require variances outside of what's allowed by municipal law.
"Given the requirements of the Aspen city charter and land-use code, the voters of the city of Aspen will evaluate the merits of the Lift One Corridor Project in a consolidated ballot question," Garrow wrote in the memo. "The ballot question will likely be forwarded on to voters in March of 2019."
The project's public benefits include a second, improved access point for Aspen Mountain skiing, a new "chondola" lift that could pave the way for more World Cup skiing events, an improved base area, restoration of the historic access to Ajax, making Dean Street more bike- and pedestrian-friendly and new park and open space that would rival "Wagner Park in size and importance," according to Garrow's memo.
Other amenities include moving the Skiers Chalet Lodge to Dean Street, where it would become a skiing museum and be used for skier services like ticketing and lockers. The Skiers Chalet Steakhouse would be relocated farther down the hill and reopen as a restaurant at the base of the mountain.