Base2 wins 4-1 council approval
The Aspen Times
Developer Mark Hunt’s Main Street lodge concept, Base2, won 4-1 Aspen City Council approval Monday evening, with Mayor Steve Skadron dissenting.
The majority of the council agreed that the tradeoffs proposed by Hunt — parking concerns and a building that’s more than two times the size of what’s allowed — were outweighed by the community benefit of adding affordable lodging in Aspen. As planned, Base2 will serve as the sister hotel to Base1, a Cooper Avenue lodge concept that brings the total number of Hunt’s rooms to 81. With council-approved expedited review, Hunt plans to open the two hotels by the end of 2016, with rooms smaller than 200 square feet and nightly rates around $200.
Skadron said he struggled with balancing growth control and promoting Aspen’s visitor-based economy, calling approval a hurdle for him. He described the proposed floor area and zero setbacks on three sides of the building as concerns.
“But I’m grateful for the project, and I think you’ll deliver something of value to the community,” Skadron told Hunt. “Congratulations. Build a good project.”
Throughout the process, Hunt contended that he could not build Base1 without Base2, as no reputable hotel operator would agree to manage less than 80 rooms in Aspen. Base1 received unanimous council approval in February.
Base2 will conform to heights requirements at 32 feet, but the 15,000 square feet in floor area exceeds the 7,500-square-foot limit. Hunt also plans to forgo all setback requirements, building to each lot line, except for in the rear of the building. He also will be required to find a parking agreement for 15 off-site spaces, when zoning calls for about 20.
During the public-comment portion of Monday’s meeting, former Mayor Mick Ireland asked that the council refer any approvals to Aspen’s voters. He argued that Hunt’s “good-faith assertion” that the lodge will remain affordable has no backing and asked the council to respect the spirit of Referendum 1. Following certification of the May 5 election, the voter-approved referendum meant all council-granted variances on height, mass, parking, affordable housing and viewplanes are now subject to public voting.
Councilman Art Daily said that referring the project to a public vote would be an inappropriate abdication of council responsibility. Skadron agreed with this point, saying it would undermine the council’s judgment.
“There’s always implied powers by the community when a (planned development) review comes forward,” Councilman Adam Frisch said after the vote. “It has nothing to do with Referendum 1. I don’t see any legal reason why we should retroactively put it back.”
During a lengthy discussion on parking, where the council increased the requirement from 12 to 15 spaces, Councilwoman Ann Mullins said it would be a shame for that detail to hold the project back. Similar to comments she and Skadron have made in the past, she said Aspen’s transportation model may involve fewer cars in five to 10 years.
Monday’s agreement will require a two-year parking audit at the property, in which both Aspen’s Community Development Department and the council can re-evaluate whatever arrangement Hunt reaches. Much of the discussion revolved around the possibility of using 15 spaces at the Rio Grande Garage, which Mullins said should be the last resort.
Also during the public-comment portion, Referendum 1 sponsor Cavanaugh O’Leary said he reversed his opinion on the project — from disapproval to support — after speaking with Hunt on Monday. Though he explained that he still fully supports the referendum, he described the project as a tradeoff for desperately needed affordable lodging. He added that it should not be referred to Aspen’s voters either, as it’s not applicable retroactively.
During the hearing, Hunt said the alternative to Base2 is a commercial building with a similar footprint. Hunt’s concessions since the previous meeting included adding additional setback space in the rear and additional parking. He said that “in no way” was he trying to undo Referendum 1 with this project.
“I will be the first one to admit that this is not perfect,” Hunt said. “But I think that if we really want affordable lodging, and we want it in Aspen and not downvalley, we’re going to have to realize there’s no perfect solution.”