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Aspen Club project too big, says City Council

ASPEN – After three years in government review and conceptual approval by the Aspen City Council, elected officials on Wednesday told Aspen Club owner Michael Fox to make his timeshare condo and facility expansion smaller.

The council also put a set of conditions on the project that Fox will have to meet before it approves the proposal, which will be reviewed again May 10.

Beyond pending issues of whether the development provides enough community benefit and other concerns, some council members said the proposal is too big and dense.

“The size and density of this project is an issue for me,” said Councilman Steve Skadron, who apologized to Fox for not addressing the matter sooner. He noted the council has been distracted with other concerns of the project and hasn’t focused on the land-use aspect.

“We should have dealt with this earlier,” Skadron said.

Fox is asking for the property at the end of Ute Avenue to be rezoned from residential to accommodate 20 timeshare condos and a 55,000-square-foot expansion for a healthy living retreat center called Aspen Club Living. The timeshare units would be comprised of 14 townhomes and six condos, as well as 12 affordable housing units.

Sunny Vann, the land-use planner for the project, said he wishes mass and scale had been dealt with sooner.

“It’s disheartening to be four meetings into the final [review],” Vann said. “But let’s talk about it.”

Vann and Fox said they are willing to discuss reducing the size of the development but it could affect the project’s financial viability.

Mayor Mick Ireland said before he can vote for the project, Fox and his partners in Aspen Club and Spa LLC must meet certain conditions and agree to certain concessions: The existing right to build single-family homes in place of the club will be removed; that the club’s ownership remain intact until all of the improvements are made to the club; that the $5 million in improvements be identified and that there is zero growth in traffic as a result of the new development.

Ireland said he is less concerned with mass and scale than he is in ensuring that the club remain a part of the community and the impacts to the neighborhood are minimized as much as possible.

Councilman Derek Johnson said he also is concerned more about the club’s long-term sustainability, but he differs from Ireland that additional parking spaces should be removed.

“I want it adequately parked,” he said.

The project’s 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 proposed, the club’s development team proposes to keep the same number of car trips on Ute Avenue as today, which is about 860 daily. The plan for reaching a zero growth in the number of cars traveling on Ute Avenue will likely be more thoroughly examined at the May 10 meeting.

All of the council members took umbrage with Fox’s proposal to guarantee that at least 50 percent of the club’s members will be local residents. If the club falls out of compliance for two years in a row, which can be checked through an annual audit, Fox proposed to give all full-time city of Aspen employees a free membership to the club.

“I really resent that,” Ireland said.

Fox said he was only trying to quell the concern of accessibility to the club and he would offer a different type of guarantee.

Fox wants to turn the Aspen Club into a destination holistic facility that’s funded by the sale of the timeshare condos, which would ensure the club’s long-term sustainability.

“Change anytime is tough, and we are asking for change and evolve a local business,” he told the council.

Dozens of people spoke during Wednesday’s public hearing, with 15 people opposing the project and 11 in support of it, with two not registering a side. However, only two representatives – Pete Louras and Chris Klug – were asked by Fox to speak on behalf of the club. Dozens of other supporters attended the meeting but didn’t speak. And Bob Hoover, an Aspen attorney, spoke on behalf of 22 neighbors against the project.

Some opponents suggested that the town already has too many timeshare units.

Aspen resident and real estate agent Nicole Hammes said 191 fractional units are for sale currently and 52 sold in 2009, excluding sales at The Residences at the Little Nell.

“Why would we add to the inventory that’s already there?” she asked the council.

Other opponents, like those who are represented by Hoover, said it’s strictly a land-use issue and the city’s own code doesn’t allow timeshares in residential zones, which is aimed at protecting the character of neighborhoods.

However, Vann pointed out that there are hotel rooms and commercial uses in other neighborhoods around town, including at the Aspen Institute.

Klug said the Aspen Club is an incredible community asset, is the third largest employer in Aspen with 200 people working there, and the development would generate new tax and fee revenue, as well as bring additional tourists to town who will patronize local businesses and thereby boosting the local economy.

“The club touches so many people so many ways,” he said.

csack@aspentimes.com


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