Base Village approved
The Snowmass Village Town Council passed Base Village unanimously Wednesday, putting an end to nearly four years of debate and negotiations.If the project survives an expected challenge at the ballot box, groundbreaking is set to begin in spring 2005. “This is the most significant event to have happened in Snowmass Village since [the ski area was formed],” said Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester during the public meeting. “It’s pretty hard for me to believe we’re actually here.” Manchester and his colleagues on the town council approved over 800,000 square feet of residential and close to 200,000 square feet of nonresidential development, including 64,000 square feet of commercial space. When all is said and done, Base Village – a joint effort by the Aspen Skiing Co. and resort developer Intrawest – will encompass over 1 million square feet (including public areas such as lobbies, hallways, and storage areas) primarily at the base of Fanny Hill. But the project still has some hurdles to clear. A referendum can be launched with approximately 190 signatures from Snowmass Village citizens, drawing a final yes/no vote from the community. Earlier this week, Jeff Tippett, chairman of Citizens for Responsible Growth, said a private survey indicated “several hundred” local residents were supportive of a referendum and an anti-Base Village campaign is in the works. Aspen Skiing Co. owner Jim Crown said he expects a referendum, but he doesn’t believe it will sink the development. “I have great confidence in the survey work we did recently,” he said via a conference call after the vote. “Approximately 60 percent support, or strongly support Base Village.” That survey was conducted in early September and included 130 randomly selected residents, which is about 10 percent of the electorate. Crown suggested that local residents may be familiarizing themselves with the project and are therefore more comfortable than they were a year ago, when the community appeared split. “Change is scary, change can be threatening and confusing to people and change presents risks that things won’t be as good tomorrow as they are today,” Crown said. “It’s not an unusual to find any idea in Aspen to inspire debate, and it’s not surprising that there [is an opposition].”And I’m not surprised that the majority seem to favor [Base Village] or favor it strongly.” Referendum aside, Wednesday was an opportunity for the partnership to take a deep breath and savor the vote. “I can’t tell you how surrealistic this seems,” said Skico’s vice president of planning, Bill Kane. In his 30 years of planning work in the Aspen area, Kane has watched with a heavy heart as one base village-type proposal after another has been shot down. “I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to drink tonight,” he laughed. “Whatever it is it’s going to be strong.” Added Skico’s legal representative, Dave Bellack: “He’s widely referred to as the world’s most famous planner.”Councilman Doug Mercatoris, who’s running unopposed for mayor of Snowmass Village, said the future looks bright, and the approval of Base Village is just the first of many steps forward. “This was a major step,” he said. “Now that we know what Base Village is we can work on these other [projects].” The town hall, Snowmass Center, entryway master plan and revitalization of the Snowmass Village mall are all vital projects that Mercatoris said are linked to Base Village. “Base Village is designed to integrate with the rest of the community,” he added. But there are some dark clouds on the horizon, as the construction phase, and subsequent growing pains, are expected to last until 2011. Critics of the project believe the roads, specifically Brush Creek Road, will suffer massive damage during the construction. Intrawest has agreed to pay up to $100,000 to cover the damage, but many wonder if that’s enough. Earlier this week, Dorothea Farris, chair of the Pitkin County commissioners, sent a letter to the Town Council bashing the town’s agreement with Intrawest. “This impact fee is grossly underestimated,” she wrote. “This cost to the public’s infrastructure should be fully absorbed by the developer and should not be borne by the Pitkin County taxpayers at-large.” Farris added that toll booths and weight restrictions may be possible alternatives to cover the cost of the damage in the future. The county assumes responsibility of Brush Creek Road near the rodeo grounds. The council dismissed Farris’ concerns and Manchester said he was completely confident $100,000 would suffice. As for other complications that may unexpectedly arise during the construction phase, Crown said his family is committed to seeing the project through. “We’re in this for the long haul, this is a community where we live, work and have families – we’re going to do what’s right by Snowmass,” he said. “If unforeseen negative events occur, we will act responsibly. Whether it’s roads or [other] damage we need to respond to, we’ll be responsible citizens.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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