Aspen Club expansion on a sprint to the finish |

Aspen Club expansion on a sprint to the finish

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Before the City Council grants approval for the Aspen Club & Spa to be expanded by 55,000 square feet with 20 timeshare condos, its owner and the corporation behind the proposal will have to provide assurances that the facility remains a health club that is accessible and affordable to the general public.That was one of the overriding messages the council delivered Monday in reviewing the final application submitted by club owner Michael Fox.The council also wants to ensure that the public benefits attached to the project will be secured in a completion bond, in the event that financing vanishes and the development project is abandoned.Those issues are the same as raised in July 2008 when the majority of the council voted to conceptually approve the proposal.And while none of those issues have been fully vetted in the final ordinance or proposal, Fox and land planner Sunny Vann say they can include it for the council’s review by next month.”They are not deal breakers,” Vann said. “We’ll take another stab with [community development and the city attorney].”Before peppering Fox with hard-hitting questions about the project’s financial backing, outside ownership interests and a host of other concerns, Mayor Mick Ireland said it’s difficult to take people he likes to task.”But we do have an obligation to hold applicants to their promises,” Ireland said. Would the Aspen Club continue operating if the proposal is not approved? he asked Fox.Fox said he may be forced to sell off the land in separate real estate pieces that would be developed into free-market homes, which is something he has been trying to avoid by creating an operation dubbed Aspen Club Living, a destination holistic health facility.”The Aspen Club would disappear at some point,” he said, adding the aging club can’t sustain itself as a business without a real estate component to generate millions of dollars in needed improvements to the existing facility and fund its operational costs.While they acknowledge that there is a public benefit of having the Aspen Club in town and its contributions to the community, council members are viewing the proposal more as a real estate development than as a transformation of the club into a healthy living retreat.As proposed, there is no guarantee that the proceeds of the time-share condos will go back into the club and not into the pockets of investors, Ireland said. He added that the city also has no assurances that the ownership in the LLC will remain intact and that the representations made now will stick in the future.”The applicant is not Michael Fox; the applicant is a corporation,” Ireland said. “I can’t make it perform things if it doesn’t exist.”Fox said upgrading the club will be necessary to meet the vision of a world-class retreat center, and he’s amenable to putting language in the ordinance that stipulates that it’s required for approval.”We’re trying to do something really cool here,” Fox said of the plan.Ireland said he also doesn’t have enough information on Fox’s representation that the new facility and campus will have a lower carbon footprint, or what the impacts will be of the additional parking spaces proposed.The proposal calls for 132 parking spaces – a net increase of 41 spaces. Spaces would be accommodated on a surface lot and in an underground parking garage. Even though there is more parking, the club’s development team proposes to keep the same number of car trips on Ute Avenue as today, which is about 860 daily.Councilman Derek Johnson said, if anything, the proposal doesn’t provide enough parking and that he is not convinced traffic levels can remain the same.”I’m not entirely sure that can be done,” he said.The club plans to achieve zero growth in car trips by offering increased shuttle service to the club at various stops throughout the city, and by employing alternative transportation methods for members and employees. The council also is concerned about the project’s mass, particularly two buildings near the Roaring Fork River that need to be reconfigured or removed from the plan.Fox said he reduced the size of the townhomes by 10 percent during conceptual review. He added that nearly all of the development – including free-market homes – around the club is larger than the facility itself, which is located at the end of Ute Avenue and can’t be seen from town.Fox also noted that all of the residents in the current Aspen Club townhome development are supportive of the plan as proposed.”The question is, the mass is too large for whom?” he said. “There’s a context question of mass.”More than two dozen people during public comment spoke on the land-use application, with a majority speaking in favor of the proposal. Many of them were either members or employees. Opponents raised their concerns over the project’s size and traffic issues along Ute Avenue.The private club is seeking to subdivide the property between Ute Avenue and Highway 82 to accommodate 14 townhomes and six condos, as well as 12 affordable housing units. The townhomes would be divided into four separate two-story structures, consisting of three- and four-bedroom units that range in size from 2,310 square feet to 2,740 square feet. Three of the buildings would be located where the tennis courts sit, on what’s called the “lower bench.”The six condos are three- and two-bedroom units that would be added to the existing facility, and range from 1,670 square feet to 2,150 square feet. All 20 of the units would be sold in one-eighth interests, with a total of 160 owners. The conceptual application proposed one-sixteenth interests for a total of 320 separate owners.

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