Aspen council’s concerns leave Lift One Lodge in limbo
November 10, 2009
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council’s anticipated vote Monday night on a proposed lodge at the base of Aspen Mountain was delayed after council members raised numerous concerns with the proposal.
The conceptual approval of Lift One Lodge, a 114,000-square-foot membership lodge on the eastern side of South Aspen Street, was continued until Nov. 23.
After nearly three hours of discussion that went past midnight, Bob Daniel, who represents developers David Wilhelm, Jim Chaffin and Jim Light, was unable to quell all of council members’ concerns about the proposal to get majority support, although elected officials were leaning toward it.
Council members voiced skepticism over the size of the lodge rooms, and whether they are too upscale and unaffordable in a troubled and changing economy.
“Are we designing something that is possibly out of touch with the market?” asked Mayor Mick Ireland. “Are people looking for smaller, more frugal rooms? It’s a concern.”
Some council members said they have a problem with the project moving Lift 1A 240 feet farther uphill and the building’s overall size.
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Councilman Steve Skadron said he believes relocating a new chairlift benefits the lodge more than it does the overall community.
“I see it as a marketing tool first and a community asset second,” he said of the new lodge located at the base of the lift.
Among many issues he has with the proposal, Councilman Torre said he thinks the lodge rooms are too large, and have too much space dedicated to luxury areas.
“I have a lot of problems, not the least of which is mass and scale,” he said. “I think there is a unique opportunity but I don’t see it in this project.”
Daniel pointed out that the Lift One Lodge would provide much-needed rental beds in a resort that has lost 3,700 pillows between 1992 and 2005. He also noted that the area of town, where skiing was born in Aspen, has seen no investment in decades.
“We are going back to our bread and butter,” he said of the tourism-based economy. “Accessibility to skiing and hot beds.”
As part of the proposal, a total of 216 fractional memberships would be offered in 27 suites divided into one-eighth interests. With “lock off” capability, those units represent 107 keys total.
The lodging units range in size from 270 square feet to 826 square feet. However, if the largest room isn’t locked off, it would be 3,400 square feet. The average room size would be 526 square feet.
There also are five free-market units proposed in the project, as well as 24 affordable housing units and five dorm-style units for 10 lodge employees.
The lodge would provide housing to its entire staff, estimated to be between 45 and 55 employees. Forty percent of those workers would be housed on the Lift One Lodge premises, which Torre questioned whether employees need housing at the base of the mountain.
“I don’t know if that is the highest and best use of this area,” he said.
The parking garage would contain no more than 250 parking spaces – 50 of which will be set aside for replacement of lost parking on South Aspen Street and the current Willoughby Park lot.
Ireland said he wants fewer parking spaces. Daniel said parking is a revenue generator for the operation but will consider the request.
Ireland said he also wants financial assurances built into the resolution to guarantee that if the developers run out of money, a half-built lodge isn’t sitting there.
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the project, saying it would create vitality in a section of town that is dilapidated and provide amenities for World Cup races.
Others said it’s too big and would ruin the character of the neighborhood, as well negatively impact skiing on that side of the mountain.
Ireland said if he were to have voted on it Monday, it wouldn’t get his support but he does favor lodging in the area.
Daniel said philosophically, it’s not helpful for the developers and their financial backers to receive conceptual approval and spend millions of dollars in planning the next phase if the council doesn’t fundamentally agree with the program.
“I’ve seen that happen before in this community and it’s not pretty,” he said.
The lodge also would contain a new public restaurant, an apres ski deck, as well as ticketing facilities for the Skico located within the lodge.
Public ski lockers would be located within the “beer, boots, and brats” restaurant on the ground floor of the relocated Skier’s Chalet Steak House building, as well as dormitory units on the second and third levels.
A ski museum, operated by the Aspen Historical Society, will be located in Willoughby Park. It would be housed in a relocated Skiers Chalet Lodge.
In addition to paying for a new high-speed 1A chairlift, developers plan to install a 700-foot-long platter lift in a corridor at Dean Street for skier access to the mountain.
The land-use application had been submitted to the council in early 2008 after gaining approval from the planning and zoning commission, and the historic preservation commission.
But Daniel pulled the application and opted to participate in a joint effort known as the Lift One Neighborhood Master Plan, which included the Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposed across the street, as well as dozens of amenities designed for the community at large.
The master plan was recommended by a 26-member citizen task force called the COWOP (convenience and welfare of the public). But it was ultimately withdrawn because of a lack of support by the council.
As a result, Daniel filed a separate application and became unattached from the Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposal, which is still being considered by a second COWOP.
Conceptual approval gives developers the OK to continue with their plans and while it doesn’t guarantee final approval, it’s expected that the fundamental aspects of the proposal are acceptable and further reviews will focus on details of the project.