Aspen lodge concept delayed in face of P&Z rejection
December 17, 2014
With the Planning and Zoning Commission on the verge of recommending the Aspen City Council deny Mark Hunt's Cooper Avenue lodge concept, the prominent developer walked away from Tuesday's review with a continuance.
Out of five board members present, three listed deal-breaker concerns about off-street parking, architectural design and the layout of public-amenity space associated with the project. Dubbed Base1, the 37.5-foot-tall lodge would replace the Cooper Avenue structure home to Johnny McGuire's with a building containing 44 lodge units at an average size of 173 square feet. The structure would be within the commercial lodge's 40-foot height limit, while also just within code at 17,000 square feet.
Plans, however, include a number of variance requests. Hunt is asking that the city waive his requirement to provide 25 off-street parking spaces, while also including a height variance, from 39 feet to 43 feet, to allow room for bathrooms.
On affordable housing, Hunt has requested the city waive mitigation requirements for 1.97 full-time employees. Finally, Hunt is asking for about $40,000 in impact fee waivers associated with the Parks Department and air quality.
For parking, Hunt is proposing a system where valets retrieve cars from the Rio Grande Parking garage. It would be similar to a potential arrangement planned with the city for Hunt's other lodge concept Base2, a Main Street project that would contain 44 similar-sized rooms. Hunt's team has been in communication with the City Manager's Office about a guarantee of 25 to 50 spaces, depending on the season, in the Rio Grande Parking Garage.
Hunt said that while the proposal may not be perfect, it offers a lot to the community and helps fill the city's need for affordable lodging. He added that hopefully the city can work with him to get the unique lodge built.
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"I hope that you realize what we're asking for is very little in return for what we're giving to this community," Hunt said.
Hunt also pointed to 4,500 square feet of public-amenity space, more than three times the requirement, as a major positive associated with the project. Plans include a rooftop deck and basement bowling alley that would be open to the public.
The building design is down to three options, including one that involves wood and one that involves metal. City planners are in favor of the wood design.
Commissioner Jasmine Tygre said she has approved similar parking requests, which have ended up exasperating Aspen's congestion problem. She explained she couldn't approve a project that includes 44 hotel rooms but zero parking spaces.
"You can't pretend you don't need parking," Tygre said.
Commissioner Brian McNellis said he sees a lot of positives with Hunt's plans, but his major concern is that the public-amenity space doesn't bring vitality to the street level. His preference, he said, would be for Hunt to reduce the amount of public area on the roof and work toward improving the blighted street level. McNellis also took issue with the building's "grid" design, which has been compared to the Aspen Art Museum.
Planner Mitch Haas said that while Hunt's team can address McNellis' concerns, there is no way to provide off-street parking with the Base1 concept.
Voicing support for the proposal, Commissioner Jason Elliott said he understands parking is a major issue, but he called the valet solution a novel one. Also in favor, Commissioner Keith Goode, a former Domino's Pizza delivery driver at the site, argued that the lodge would generate between five and 10 cars, and it shouldn't drag the entire project down.
Vice Chairman Stan Gibbs said the proposed building doesn't fit the zone's design guidelines. He argued that Base1 would not serve as an acceptable transition between commercial and residential, as it should in the commercial-lodge zone district.
During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Dayna Horton, a former Hotel Lenado employee, lamented the demise of small, economic lodges in Aspen. She said that through Base1, Hunt is offering something the city has needed for a long time.
John Hailey, manager of City Market, simply posed two questions to Hunt: Where will employees park, and what will the hotel do if the Rio Grande Garage becomes busy? Haas answered that any agreement with the city would be long-term, and the applicant would be seeking a guarantee on the spaces.
Before the commission voted to recommend denial, Hunt requested a continuance to Jan. 6.