Aspen’s electeds deny developer extension on his right to redevelop Main Street hotel
A developer is preparing to raze and replace two lodges on Main Street that will be under construction simultanously for almost two years.
Aspen City Council last week denied developer Michael Brown’s request for an extension on his vesting rights to redevelop the Molly Gibson Lodge.
Brown, who also owns the Hotel Aspen across the street from the Molly Gibson, was attempting to avoid having both lodges offline and letting go of employees, who are shared between the properties.
With construction slated to begin in the fall for the Hotel Aspen and vesting rights expiring in June on the Molly Gibson, Brown was asking for two more years.
He already is living on a two-year extension that was granted in 2018; the project was approved in 2015.
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Councilwoman Rachel Richards said there wasn’t a compelling reason for the community to grant another extension.
“Where is the enhanced community benefit?” she asked, adding that she wonders why Brown and his co-owner brother, Aaron, didn’t redevelop the Molly Gibson in the past five years when the market was ripe with low-interest rates and high demand for lodging.
She also noted that it might be better to just get the construction done in one fell swoop rather than phase it.
“I’m a little nervous about how many things have been approved and are going up in the coming years,” Richards said.
Brown told council he’s prepared to submit for building permits for the Molly Gibson and has put more than $1 million into planning for the project.
“If you guys don’t see the benefit to it, I’m not going to make the case; we’ll deal the hand were dealt,” he said.
Stan Clauson, the land-use planner hired for both projects, said the complexities surrounding the Hotel Aspen delayed construction.
Having both properties under construction at the same time will impact the community both in terms of activity on Main Street and the tourism economy.
“It will be a significant hit to the city’s lodging base,” he told the council.
That argument didn’t sway elected officials.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins and Mayor Torre said they generally don’t support extending vested rights for developers.
Mike Kraemer, a senior planner in the city’s Community Development Department, said disruption to traffic may occur, but the city requires construction management plans for projects, including access, to help minimize impacts.
He also noted that the Molly Gibson and Hotel Aspen have dedicated alley access, which can be used for construction staging and would alleviate disruptions to Main Street.
Council also denied Brown’s request to remove the one-bedroom affordable housing apartment in the Molly Gibson and replace it off site with a second bedroom.
Removing the housing unit and putting two approved basement lodge units above grade would allow for more conference space, Brown said.
“It creates a better hotel, which is better for the community,” he told council, explaining that the conference room could be a gathering place for locals.
The Molly Gibson is approved as a 20,575-square-foot lodge with 68 rooms averaging around 300 square feet each, along with two single-family residences that are 4,500 square feet each.
The lodge currently has 53 rooms, and Hotel Aspen will go from 45 to 54 rooms.
The Browns received approval before the city enacted a new land-use code and a 28-foot height limit on buildings in town.
Both the Molly Gibson and Hotel Aspen are approved to be 32 feet tall.
The 2015 lodge approval also permitted the Molly Gibson redevelopment to maintain an existing offstreet parking deficit for the project.
Currently, 12 parking spaces are approved for the lodge. Today’s land-use code would require 34 parking spaces.
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Richard Miller and Allison Marcus were sentenced to 45, days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service and $100,000 of restitution on June 30, 2019, as their sentence for starting the Lake Christine Fire the prior year. They have made significant strides in fulfilling their debt to society, according to the district attorney’s office.