Aspen Skiing Co. gave up on Lift 1A development after land use battles
When the going got tough at the base of Lift 1A, Aspen Skiing Co. decided to get going — out of the picture.
Skico owns some of the most potentially lucrative real estate at the base of Aspen Mountain, but it has a contract to sell the land near the bottom terminal of Lift 1A to Norway Island LLC.
Skico is completing construction on a hotel project in Ketchum, Idaho, and hanging on to dreams of building a Limelight Hotel at Snowmass Base Village, but it lost interest in developing its property at the base of Lift 1A after a devastating one-two punch was delivered by the city of Aspen in 2009 and the economy over the next three years, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.
A neighborhood planning process organized by the Aspen city government was rejected by the City Council in January 2009. That process, called the Convenience and Welfare of the Public, or COWOP, brought together developers, landowners, residents of the Lift 1A neighborhood and concerned citizens.
The committee voted 19-1 in September 2008 in favor of a vision for nearly $500 million of development, including numerous public amenities that the developers of private property would fund.
The council was deadlocked on the plan, 2-2, in January 2009 and initially intended to put the Lift One Master Plan proposal before voters. That was withdrawn before the public vote. That means each project has to sink or swim on its own — potentially making for a tougher review process.
recession altered priorities
Shortly after the master plan was rejected, the Great Recession hit with a vengeance, forcing Skico and nearly every other business to focus on rebuilding its customer base for the next three years. Meanwhile, Skico also was dealing with the uncertainty at Snowmass Base Village.
The Aspen Times requested an interview last week with Skico executives to discuss the company’s decision not to try to develop a hotel at Lift 1A itself. The request was declined, and Skico released a statement instead.
“After the COWOP process failed, (Skico) was frustrated by the lack of progress revitalizing South Aspen Street, and when someone else stepped up with a plan to develop the parcel, we decided to let them move forward,” the statement said.
Hanle said Skico was approached by an initial partnership about the availability of the Lift 1A property in 2012. The contract was signed the following year. Norway Island LLC — whose partners are Jeff Gorsuch, Bryan Peterson and Lowe Enterprises — has an option to buy the property from Skico. The gross lot area for the project is 44,550 square feet, according to Norway Island’s application to the city.
Gorsuch Haus unveiled its general concept in November 2015 and tweaked it before submitting a plan to the city this year for a hotel with 67,781 square feet.
The proposal is for 62 lodge units, six free-market residences, one affordable-housing unit and 9,111 square feet of commercial space.
Mass, lift placement are issues
Mass and density have emerged as sticking points in two hearings held by the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission. The commission majority urged the developers to alter their plan to blend better with buildings in the neighborhood.
The Gorsuch team’s initial reaction was that downsizing the hotel or breaking it up into more than one building makes it more expensive and difficult to operate. They will be back before the Planning Commission on Aug. 16.
The placement of Lift 1A also is a sticking point. Norway Island is proposing to move the replacement high-speed quad slightly up the slope but at a lower elevation. The bottom terminal would be in a plaza, partially tucked into a nook created by the hotel design. The city planning staff and some Planning Commission members have expressed concerns that the design privatizes the chairlift.
Numerous residents have urged the Gorsuch Haus team to work with the developer of Lift One Lodge, a proposal farther down the slope, to come up with a plan that brings the lift closer to Dean Street. The Gorsuch Haus partners contend their design would allow the lift to be lowered.
Members of the COWOP were adamant in 2008 that the replacement lift be extended down to Dean Street.
Skico declined to answer questions from The Aspen Times on whether the company, as the landowner, would have been in a position to build a smaller hotel than that proposed by Gorsuch Haus. Skico also declined to answer if it could have been in better position as the ski-area operator to provide leadership on the lift-placement issue. The questions, the company said, are “speculative.”
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