Aspen P&Z votes 6-0 to recommend denial of Gorsuch Haus
The Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission voted 6-0 Tuesday night to advise the City Council to deny the Gorsuch Haus hotel proposal at the Lift 1A base of Aspen Mountain.
Commission members said the area is appropriate for a hotel but not the project Norway Island LLC submitted.
“You have a vision on this that I want to buy into,” said Planning Commission Chairman Keith Goode. “I’m almost there.”
He later added, “I don’t think this is the building we want to see right now.”
The size and mass of the Gorsuch Haus was widely cited as a problem. The structure would have 70,134 square feet of floor area and 127,525 square feet of gross area. The four-story building will be the highest structure on Aspen Mountain.
But while size and mass were a strike, an even bigger problem was the location of a replacement Lift 1A. Commission members, like many Aspen residents, want the lift to extend farther downslope, possibly reaching down to Dean Street.
Planning Commission member Jasmine Tygre said she had trouble believing that in the 1960s the chairlift was located further downslope but that 50-some years later a deal cannot be worked out to return it to the old location.
Commission member Kelly McNicholas Kury said it’s not all the fault of the Norway Island partners. The owners of the Lift One Lodge downslope from Gorsuch Haus and the city government also share blame for failing to work out a deal, she said, adding that it is clearly a “predominant consensus” in Aspen to bring the lift lower.
Over the course of four public hearings that the commission held on the project, audience members always implored the board to use the process to get the lift down the slope. Audience member Tom Melberg said Tuesday evening that the city should start with the premise that the lift should extend into town and then work to find solutions to make it happen.
Jim DeFrancia of the development firm Lowe Enterprises, one of the partners in Norway Island, insisted several times during the three-hour meeting that his team has done all it can on the lift issue.
“It’s a great idea. I don’t know what else we can do to make it happen,” he said.
The design of Gorsuch Haus was altered during the review so that the lift could physically be extended downslope, he noted. To get the lift down to Dean Street would require agreement from Lift One Lodge; the Dolinsek family, which donated land; and the city of Aspen, DeFrancia said.
Michael Brown, a partner in the approved-but-not-built Lift One Lodge, said during the meeting that Aspen Skiing Co. officials came to him roughly a year ago with a proposal to extend the lift down into his property. The bottom of the lift would be where the Skiers’ Chalet is currently located, he said.
Brown’s team countered with a proposal to make the lift a gondola. That would have required them to alter their project and make the risky move of reopening their land-use approvals to review by the city. To do that, they wanted concessions from the Gorsuch team, Brown said. Those negotiations broke down.
Brown and DeFrancia offered different versions of why the proposal cratered.
As proposed, the replacement lift would be 66 feet from its current location. Vans would make laps between the Rubey Park bus station and Gorsuch Haus to deliver skiers to the base area.
“The rubber-tired solution to lift access really isn’t a solution,” Tygre said.
Some commission members were slightly apologetic for advising denial of the project. Skippy Mesirow said he felt Gorsuch Haus could be “remarkable” if certain shortcomings were addressed.
McNicholas Kury said she wanted to make sure the council realizes the Planning Commission supports a hotel at the site despite the unanimous vote against Gorsuch Haus.
The Planning Commission’s vote is just advisory. The project will still advance to the City Council, though no date has been set yet for the start of the review.
The project has two strikes against it. The city planning staff also recommended denial.
“We have always said the mass and scale needed to be reduced,” Deputy Planning Director Jennifer Phelan said.