Basalt P&Z cuts height from planned hotel
Basalt’s planning commission on Tuesday night scalped a longtime local lodge operator’s plan to build an upscale, 56-unit hotel-condominium project in town.Ron Richmond, the former owner of the Snowflake Inn in Aspen, wants a four-story structure. The planning commission voted 5-1 to give him only three stories.”Scalewise for Basalt it seems really large,” Planning Commissioner Jen Seal Cramer said. The hotel as proposed was 48,000 square feet.Board members Bernie Grauer and Gary Wheeler said they could support a three-story structure but not four, in large part because of the proposed hotel’s site in the woods along the Roaring Fork River. “That’s a very important area for the image of our town,” Grauer said.Wheeler said he wanted to retain the roof lines and architectural features even if the fourth floor was eliminated. Richmond wants to build his somewhat unique project between the river and Highway 82 on the Basalt Bypass, just to the east, or upvalley, side of Stubbies bar. It would feature 54 condominiums that the buyers could use themselves only a few months of the year. The rest of the time the units would be treated like hotel rooms available to the public. Two employee housing units would be included.The development team touted the project as a way to bring business to Basalt year-round. Joel Davenport, who has managed tourist accommodations for Richmond, said the Basalt hotel would be popular with skiers, especially since economy lodges are rapidly disappearing from Aspen. He said out-of-town owners of condos in Aspen and Snowmass Village tend to use them only 3 to 5 percent of the time. Similar trends would be expected in Basalt, he said.Richmond has been sitting on the Basalt property for years, waiting for the right time to proceed with the project. He said that time is now.”It’s something that the town of Basalt desperately needs,” Richmond said. “The numbers haven’t warranted it up to now, [but] now they do.”He said potential buyers would be offered a “first-class property” of a type that hasn’t been available previously in Basalt. The hotel has tentatively been named River Mountain Lodge.Richmond was stunned by the planning commission’s ruling and claimed that prior approvals by the town government in 1994 cleared the way for his project. He was given permission to build the hotel 45 feet high with no limit on the number of stories, he said.He said he will seek approval for the four-story building from the Town Council despite the planning commission’s recommendation to shave it. The council can overrule the planning commission.The saga of the River Mountain Lodge appears to be bigger than a typical fight between a developer and city hall. As the economy booms in the Roaring Fork Valley and Aspen real estate prices keep soaring, Basalt is coming under greater growth pressure. Development applications are flowing again after a lull.At the same time, Basalt officials and residents are working on a land-use master plan that aims to preserve its small-town character while accommodating some growth.Wheeler, Grauer and Seal Cramer were joined in the vote against the hotel as proposed by Able Liston and Bill Maron. Joe Zuena voted against the motion to limit the hotel to three stories. His vote could be significant. Zuena will be appointed to the Town Council on Nov. 22 to fill a vacancy. He will be seated before River Mountain Lodge comes before that board for review.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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