Aspen’s bed drain turns to bed gain |

Aspen’s bed drain turns to bed gain

Janet Urquhart

After losing 82 lodge units in the first three years of its lodge preservation program, Aspen’s efforts to strengthen its small ski lodges is finally gaining back some ground.

The three-year drain, including the conversion of two former lodge properties to luxury townhomes, forced the city to retool its lodge preservation rules last year. The results are encouraging, at least among the lodges that fall under the city’s lodge preservation zoning, according to Chris Bendon, city planner.

Using the new provisions enacted last year, the St. Moritz is now building eight additional units and two housing units. The Boomerang Lodge recently received approval to expand with five three-bedroom chalets and two one-bedroom lodge units, along with two affordable housing units.

The Hotel Aspen has applied to add 16 units at its Main Street

property, and the Mountain Chalet is considering adding up to eight new units.

“If you look exclusively in the lodge preservation zone, we’ve stemmed the tide,” Bendon said.

The fate of numerous other lodges where the lodge preservation zoning is not in place, however, is worrisome, Bendon conceded. Lodging properties are especially attractive for conversion to employee housing, which fulfills one pressing need in Aspen at the expense of another, added Julie Ann Woods, head planner for the city.

The former Ullr Lodge was transformed into the Ullr Commons Condominiums this year. The 27-unit housing project was funded by a group of 10 local businesses that purchased the condos to rent to their employees.

The Ullr was not covered by the lodge preservation zoning, which would have eased its redevelopment as a lodge.

“You look at the Ullr – any chance for what it could have had in terms of lodging was eliminated,” Woods said.

“The more of these lodges that end up going to a conversion to affordable housing – it’s going to put an ever-bigger strain on our lodging,” she said.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has lamented the loss of lodging as a contributing factor in its 16-percent drop in customer visits the past two ski seasons.

Aspen has lost 18 percent of its capacity for tourists over the last five years, or about 1,800 “pillows,” according to the Skico.

An accurate tally of what has been lost is difficult, said Bendon, especially since some lodge properties that are gone hadn’t actually functioned as lodges for years.

Nonetheless, Bendon said 82 units accounting for 206 pillows were eliminated between 1996 and 1999, after the city’s first try at revamping its lodge preservation zoning. Initially, the legislation allowed lodges to convert to other uses compatible with their underlying zoning – typically commercial or residential development.

The owners of some rundown properties were the first to take advantage of the chance to get out of the lodging business.

Last year, the city clamped down on the rules, eliminating special considerations that helped lodge properties convert to other uses. The rewritten legislation eased the way for lodges to upgrade, however, and those measures have allowed the St. Moritz and Hotel Aspen, for example, to pursue expansion.

The Mountain Chalet, which is not under the lodge preservation zoning, may request the zoning to accommodate its plan to add another story to part of its building, said co-owner Ralph Melville.

Expansion of the lodge preservation zoning to all lodge properties where it is not in place may be a move the city decides to explore at some point in the future, Bendon said.

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