Base2 Lodge petition enters final stretch
As the clock ticks on a petition drive to put Mark Hunt’s Base2 Main Street lodge to a vote, the bullish developer and opponents of the hotel are making their cases for and against the polarizing project.
While 621 signatures are due to the City Clerk’s Office by July 9, co-organizer Ward Hauenstein said the goal is to acquire 1,000 names and submit them by July 8.
“We’re on schedule and we’re looking good for getting signatures,” Hauenstein said Thursday. The extra margin provides a buffer for invalid signatures, some of which could come from ineligible voters who live outside city limits, Hauenstein said.
Hunt said if the petition is successful, he’d like to see closer to 2,000 signatures.
That, he said, “is because I think it would be really kind of sad. It could be one of those scenarios where 600 people win and the other 90 percent suffer. They want to give the vote to the people, so to speak, but in reality, here’s the perfect example of something the community is behind.”
The drive comes after the Aspen City Council on June 1 passed Hunt’s Base2 proposal, which Hunt has touted as an affordable, 37-bedroom lodge. It would be located at the corner of Main and Monarch streets in the space currently occupied by the Conoco service station. Hunt has said the lodge would provide a suitable complement for the already-approved 42-bedroom Base1 hotel, which will replace the Buckhorn Arms Building near City Market on Cooper Avenue. Hunt’s Base2 application sought 15,000 square feet in floor area, exceeding the 7,500-square-foot threshold allowed for that location. The City Council also gave him waivers for housing and setback requirements, while Hunt told officials he’ll find 15 off-site parking spaces to accommodate lodge guests.
The city has maintained that the application, submitted before voters passed Referendum 1 in the May 5 election, is grandfathered in and not subject to the new amendment to the Home Rule Charter. That amendment mandates that the City Council no longer give land-use variances to downtown commercial projects on height, mass, parking, affordable housing and viewplanes. Development proposals out of scope with city land-use rules would have to go to voters.
The petition aims to bring Base2 to do just that.
“I don’t think this is in harmony with what the people of Aspen want,” Hauenstein said, saying the City Council’s approval of the lodge was a “slap in the face” to voters.
Hunt said he’s not sure what he will do if Base2 goes to a vote.
“I don’t want to fight against a group of people who, quite frankly, have not seen the project,” he said. “If I were changing the color of the gas pumps (at the existing Conoco), they would have the same number of signatures.”
For now, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I really don’t know,” he said.
Hunt expressed frustration that a number of the people pushing the petition didn’t attend public meetings where he outlined his plans for the development, one that he views as filling a need for a lack of affordable rooms in Aspen.
“We’ve had 12 public venues where they could have come and looked at the project, but they chose not to, and instead, they spend two or three hours a day, weeks on end, and talk about things they’ve never seen,” he said.
He added, “I truly set out to do something to make a difference with affordable lodging. I’m proud of it and was actually really excited to bring it to the community.”
But Hauenstein said there are no assurances that Hunt will charge what he has said would be nightly rates of $200 for the 200-square-foot rooms.
By contrast, Aspen’s average room rate from January through May was $448.41, according to the most recent Rocky Mountain Lodging Report issued by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association. That’s more than triple the state average of $146.15 for the first five months of the year.
Parking also is a big concern for some Aspen residents and business owners.
Ross Ettlin, owner of Rocky Mountain Pet Shop on South Monarch, said the new hotel could take away parking spots on his street, which is less than a block away from the development in question.
“If Aspen needs more rooms, OK, but parking can be a b—-,” he said, noting that his block alone has nine parking spots but is usually maxed out with seven vehicles because there are no parking stripes.
Many of his customers park for just a short time, Ettlin said. But guests at Base2 could very well take those parking spots away, he said.
“People run in and run out of my store,” he said.
Hunt said he has parking lined up, but he wouldn’t say where.
“The parking requirement will be satisfied,” he said.
For Jon Kelly, Base2 just doesn’t make sense. Kelly is building a West End home for his family at Aspen and Hallam streets.
“You’re going to have smaller rooms, people driving in for the lower price, and they need to park somewhere,” he said, “and that would be the residential neighborhood on our side and the commercial on the other side. There’s just not a lot of parking.”
Kelly also said the Base2 concept doesn’t seem to jibe with the character of the buildings near it.
“To be near Matsuhisa (the restaurant) and the (Hotel) Jerome and a residential neighborhood, it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “We’re looking for a family environment, and that’s why we’re moving there. I understand we’re close to the commercial core — that’s part of what brings vitality. But we did our purchase with the expectation of what would be around there and what exists there in that zone. Here, (the City Council) just threw out the rule book completely. We don’t think that’s fair.”
Both Hauenstein and Maurice Emmer, a vocal supporter of both the petition and Referendum 1, said the petition drive isn’t aimed personally at Hunt.
“I speak for myself and a number of people when I say we have nothing against Mark Hunt and his effort to redevelop parcels in Aspen,” Emmer said. “But if it’s not proper zoning, there’s a process through which to have it rezoned. We’ve got zoning, so let’s honor the zoning.”
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.