Aspen P&Z tells Gorsuch to rework hotel plan
The Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission sent an emphatic message Tuesday to the developers of the Gorsuch Haus hotel to rework their plan.
The majority of the board said the developers need to reduce the mass and size of the hotel to better match the neighborhood. They also want the replacement for Lift 1A to be more welcoming for the public both in location and accessibility.
Some members also stressed the need for the project to honor the “historical integrity” of the western base area of Aspen Mountain.
Planning commission member Ryan Walterscheid said many people would probably agree that a hotel is appropriate at the base of Aspen Mountain.
“I’m not sure this is the right answer for this property,” he said.
The hotel “hugs the lift,” he noted. As proposed, the public users of the lift would arrive at a cul-de-sac off South Aspen Street, then walk on a pedestrian route around the curved northern part of the hotel to arrive at a plaza where the bottom terminal of a high-speed quad chairlift would be located. Critics contend the design tends to privatize the chairlift.
“I do believe the concerns about privatizing the lift are valid,” said planning commission member Kelly McNicholas.
Location of lift ongoing concern
Numerous other concerns were cited with the hotel design and its relation to the chairlift. Planning commission member Brian McNellis said the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain has historical significance because it was one of the birthplaces of skiing in the western U.S. It is important to him to be able to sit at old Lift 1, look up the mountain and see where people were skiing 60 and 70 years ago. Other commission members concurred.
The northern wing of the hotel blocks that view line, McNellis said.
One of the biggest points of contention with the Gorsuch Haus has been the location of the new chairlift. Many people want it extended farther down the mountain, as Lift 1 was. The Gorsuch team explored working with the owners of the approved but unbuilt Lift One Lodge farther down the slope on a proposal for a platter pull lift to deliver skiers to Lift 1A. The idea isn’t feasible because it would be in a narrow corridor between structures that would require the lift to be turned off when skiers were descending, according to Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises.
Lowe is a partner in Norway Island LLC along with Jeff Gorsuch and Bryan Peterson. The Gorsuch team, which includes Richard Shaw and colleagues from Design Workshop, are proposing to deliver skiers to the lift by using a shuttle that would depart from the Rubey Park bus station every eight minutes.
Planning commission member Jasmine Tygre said the project needs to do better. She was critical of the location of the lift and the maneuvers the public will have to undertake to reach it.
“It’s kind of like an eye roller for me,” Tygre said.
Relying on a shuttle “is a horrible idea,” she later added. She urged the developers to find “a real lift solution.” The current proposal is a “patchwork,” she said.
McNicholas said the platter pull lift and shuttle have been presented as “either/or” solutions. She urged Gorsuch Haus to work with neighbors to come up with a better solution.
Alarms sound over mass and size
Mass and scale of the hotel, which would be as much as 49 feet high with 67,781 square feet of floor area stepped up the slope, was a concern for six of the seven planning commission members.
“I do think it’s large,” McNellis said. He said the hotel should be broken up into more buildings rather than one structure.
“You’re going to be looking at seven stories of this looking up the mountain,” McNellis said, adding that it will be “overwhelming.”
Walterscheid agreed that the stepped up heights and overall mass are a concern. There is debate over the proper zoning for the site, he noted, but whatever it is zoned, the project has the responsibility of blending in with neighboring structures. He urged the team to go back and more closely match the tourist accommodations in the neighborhood.
Planning commission chairman Keith Goode said the city has a land-use code that reflects what the community wants from development. The project needs to do a better job of matching the code as outlined by the city planning staff in a memo released earlier this month, Goode said.
The strongest support for the project was expressed by planning commission member Jason Elliott. “Overall I think it’s great,” he said.
Elliott said neighbors knew there would be some type of hotel, and possibly a large one, on the property. While he wants the parties in the neighborhood to work on differences, he said the criticism of neighbors has limited impact.
“I don’t think that’s going to stop me from approving anything,” he said.
Review resumes Aug. 16
The planning commission didn’t take a formal vote but decided to resume review Aug. 16. That will give the Gorsuch Haus team time to adjust the plan, if so desired. The team members headed to Design Workshop after the meeting to “debrief.”
DeFrancia said the direction of the planning commission didn’t come as a surprise. Aspen residents have raised some of the same points, he said.
When asked if the hotel could be smaller and broken up into various buildings, he said it’s a question without an easy answer. Breaking up the building affects the operations and operating expenses. “We’re going to look at that,” he said.
He also said they would look at eliminating the “knuckle” in the design — the part of the building that wraps around into the view line of the chairlift to the north. However, he said he needed to see for himself that the view up from old Lift 1 is obscured.
The Gorsuch team has undergone an alteration since the last planning commission appearance two weeks ago. Maureen Poschman, who has been working on communications with the team for several months, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Gorsuch added Sheryl Barto, principal of O Communications, to help with “the broader campaign,” DeFrancia said. Poschman remains a communications consultant, DeFrancia and Poschman said. She said she needed to reduce her role due to commitments to her family and other clients of her communications firm.
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