Aspen council puts off decision on Lift One development
December 9, 2008
ASPEN ” After 10 hours of reviewing what would be the largest development Aspen has seen in generations, the Aspen City Council early Tuesday opted not to make a final decision on the Lift One Master Plan.
In an early morning decision, the Aspen City Council on Tuesday voted to table the land-use application that serves as a master plan for the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side, and allow developers time to work out details that couldn’t be hashed out for some members of the council as of midnight.
The master plan proposes 300,000 square feet of residential and commercial space along South Aspen Street, which will cost an estimated half-billion dollars to build.
John Sarpa, representing Centurion Partners, and Bob Daniel, representing Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge-Aspen LLC., asked that the council table its decision until Jan. 14.
The two developers individually have proposed two hotels, affordable housing, restaurants, retail space and public amenities on an 8-acre site in what’s known as the Lift One neighborhood. The city of Aspen and the Aspen Skiing Co. also are landowners at the site.
It’s the last piece of Aspen that has remained undeveloped and is where the history of the ski resort started with the first chairlift in 1947.
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Changes to the 50-page plus document governing the master plan were being proposed and negotiated up to the final hour of the council’s decision. Developers’ representatives were rewriting amendments to the document as late as 11 p.m. ” nine hours after Monday’s meeting started.
“I object to continuing with amendments and language changes that don’t give us time to digest it,” said Mayor Mick Ireland. “There’s a human capacity and for me, it’s limited.”
Developers and elected officials combed over dozens of the finer details of the ordinance, and several of them were potential deal breakers for some council members.
Ireland said he wants assurances that the developers will have the financial backing to build the project and the pu lic improvements that go along with it, and that the city is protected under a host of failed scenarios.
Those assurances include shortening 10 years of vesting rights for the developers; the amount in which they will pay the city per employee for affordable housing off site; and guaranteeing that trucks won’t be parking near the area during construction. Developers agreed that they must get the master development plan approved within two years; subdivision approval within two years; and obtain a building permit within five years ” or all of the development rights are null and void.
Other crucial details of the proposal ” like a construction management plan that could span as long as 13 years ” might be shifted to the master development agreement. That agreement will likely be hashed out with developers and city officials.
The council took hours of public comment, with more than 40 residents speaking on the proposal; the majority of them were in favor of the development. They argued it would revitalize a dilapidated area of town and contribute to much-needed lodging for the ski resort.
However, there were many residents against the project, saying it was too large, too high-end and would create burdens too great for the community.
Councilman Dwayne Romero said he is in favor of the project and was ready to cast a “yes” vote. He noted that the developers have made reasonable assurances and a commitment to providing public benefits as part of the proposal.
“There is a heightened level of confidence in what is being presented,” he said, adding the plan speaks to the greater good and the benefit of the ski resort.
Councilman Steve Skadron said the development is too large and announced prior to the final vote that he didn’t support the master plan as proposed.
“I would like development that is more intimate and sensitive to the town’s history,” Skadron said.
Councilwoman Jackie Kasabach hadn’t made it clear whether she supported the plan but did say that future community consensus may be possible.
The master plan can be taken to the voters either by council action or by a citizen-petitioned referendum, which activist Toni Kronberg said she will do if transportation issues aren’t resolved.
Ireland said he could possibly sup port the plan if he feels assured that the city is protected and crucial details are answered. But after 10 hours of review and continual changes to the ordinance governing the master plan, Ireland couldn’t think clearly enough to make a responsible, educated decision.
“I would not want to take an exam on this tomorrow and be able to pass it,” he said.
The master plan is the result of six months of work by a 27-member task force made up of neighbors, skiers, residents, elected officials and developers. The group had been meeting every week since April, collectively logging more than 2,000 hours toward the effort.
The group in September voted 19 to-1 in favor of recommending that the council approve the land-use application. There were six people who didn’t vote and one who abstained.
Centurion Partners is proposing that the Lodge at Aspen Mountain be 167,000 square feet ” 8,000 square feet smaller than what was shot down by the council last year in a separate application.
There would be 75 lodge units, 26 fractional-ownership units, five free-market residential units, a maximum of 18,000 square feet of commercial space and a minimum of 238 under ground parking spaces.
Across the street and slightly farther up the hill would be the Lift One Lodge, proposed by developers David Wilhelm, Jim Chaffin and Jim Light under the auspices of Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge-Aspen LLC. It’s proposed at 135,000 square feet.
Both developments far exceed the city’s 42-foot tall height limit, but are designed to blend in with the steep slope of the street and mountain so they don’t appear as large.
The Lift One Lodge would be a mixed-use membership lodge and whole-ownership project consisting of 35 lodge units, five free-market residential units, a maximum of 9,000 square feet of commercial space and 250 underground parking spaces.
The commercial space would include a public restaurant and bar, an affordable brew pub, and facilities for the Aspen Skiing Co., including ticket sales, equipment rental, public storage lockers, among other skier servicing facilities.
The defunct Skiers Chalet Steak House building, also owned by Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge-Aspen LLC, would contain about 1,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, and five dormitory affordable housing rooms on its second and third floors.
The Skier Chalet Lodge building would be relocated to Willoughby Park, where it’s planned to be used for a historical museum, affordable housing or affordable commercial space.
It’s estimated that the development would generate 1,300 new car trips a day and as many as 100 vehicles spilling onto nearby intersections within an hour during peak times.
Developers have agreed to provide housing for 100 percent of the employees that will be generated from the developments. That commitment had been 75 percent until recently. The remaining 25 percent of employee housing could be paid for through an increased transfer tax collected on the sale of the units in the fractional condominium and membership lodge part of the project. However, that transfer tax is a detail that has not been fully cooked, leaving the revenue stream to pay for the additional housing in limbo.
Hotel employees would be housed on site, at the Aspen Business Center and other locations not yet determined. Burlingame Ranch, which is owned by the city, was taken out of the master plan document as a potential site for the hotels’ employees.
In the master plan, a surface lift is proposed at Dean Street and would take people to a new high-speed quad chairlift, 230 feet farther uphill than the existing Lift 1A. Both lifts would be paid for by the developers and Skico, which is another commitment that Ireland wants a guarantee on ” specifically that they will be built in a timely manner, regardless of which hotel is built first.