Base2 debate round two: Hotel box or commercial box? | AspenTimes.com

Base2 debate round two: Hotel box or commercial box?

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

Developer Mark Hunt is promising that parking will be built on-site at his Base2 lodge project— a conclusion that has satisfied even Mayor Steve Skadron, the lone dissenting vote when the council approved the project in June.

Skadron said at a Base2 forum Wednesday night that because parking is no longer an issue, he's supporting the project.

In a forum featuring the same panelists as Tuesday's Aspen Public Radio debate — Maurice Emmer and Ward Hauenstein versus Hunt and consultant Dwayne Romero — Hunt reiterated that he will be building a box on the Conoco gas station site across from Carl's Pharmacy. It's up to the voters to decide whether that box is a lodge or a commercial building.

The Nov. 3 election comes down to a use, he said. Hunt bought the property to develop it, and that's what he'll do. The vote in November can't change that fact, he said.

"Do we as a community want to be part of the solution and create hot beds, or do we want a commercial building?" Hunt asked.

In an emotional speech following the debate, Skadron offered his take on why he has flipped his position on which box is the right project. He spoke of the bigger box, the Base2 lodge, as filling a void in Aspen that would serve a segment of the market — younger travelers — that the town desperately needs. The smaller box — a bank, a store that few locals would visit or a modern pharmacy competing with Carl's — would do nothing for the community, he said.

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"Aspen doesn't stand still. We move forward because we've always remained relevant to another generation," Skadron said. "The smaller box will always be a box. The bigger box will become a vital part of Aspen's future for guests and locals."

Hunt later clarified that the size of the box wouldn't change whether it's a lodge or a commercial building.

During the debate, Emmer argued that the city's process in reviewing and approving Base2 was corrupt from the start, his primary reason for opposing Base2. Emmer, a former candidate for mayor, said he's not against more hotel beds in town, he's against what he called a corrupt system.

Hauenstein is more hung up on the fact that the lot is zoned as a transition into a residential neighborhood and Base2 would turn it into high-density lodging.

But the gas station that currently exists on the site would require more variances to remain as-is than the lodge would, Hunt said, to which no one disagreed.

"Why haven't we been fighting to get rid of a gas station for 40 years?" he said, adding that the lodge would have less traffic than the gas station produces, according to his projections.

Hunt criticized community members for not showing up to the dozen or so public meetings that occurred during the project's review. Everyone waited until the process was over, he said.

Romero, who was an Aspen city councilman when Base2 was approved in June, pleaded that the project is a "humble addition" to Aspen, the ski town. Building a healthy and vibrant lodging base has been a town goal and value for 40 years, he said.

For Skadron, the vote comes down to creating a bright future for Aspen.

"I believe an astute community that welcomes visitors doesn't leave its destiny to chance," he said. "In 20 years, lets be proud of a cool hotel on that corner. Let's choose the right box."

Lglendenning@aspentimes.com

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