Battle lines drawn over Boomerang redevelopment
The redevelopment of the old Boomerang Lodge has been hanging in the balance since 2006, and it will stay that way until at least October.
At a public hearing Monday, the Aspen City Council opted not to decide the fate of the most recent proposal for the 500 W. Hopkins Ave. property, which has drawn fierce criticism from nearby residents who claim it is too large and tall and out of step with the Shadow Mountain neighborhood.
The council, by a 3-2 vote, moved to continue the process until Oct. 9. Council members Ann Mullins and Bert Myrin voted not to extend the matter, saying they were ready to reject it.
The would-be owners, Marshall Tycher and Eric Witmondt, both of whom are developers from New Jersey and frequent visitors to Aspen, have argued they are simply making slight modifications to approvals the redevelopment won in 2006.
Those changes include upping the average unit size from 812 square feet to 1,040 square feet. With the rooms becoming predominantly suites under the new proposal, they would range in size from 800 square feet to 1,732 square feet. Additionally, the developers would reduce the number of lodge units from the approved number of 29 to 23. The number of lodge keys, 47, would remain the same. Also included are five free-market residential units, two affordable-housing units and underground parking for 32 vehicles.
They would keep the approved floor area of 46,140 square feet, while the structure would stand four stories tall.
Tycher, who attended the first hearing in August, and Witmondt, who was at Monday’s meeting, have the property under contract to buy from Aspen FSP ABR LLC, which bought the land and the 1949-built lodge for $13.5 million in June 2005.
However, they have said they will only acquire the property, with the council’s blessing of their proposed changes.
“We don’t think it could be built or marketed the way it is currently designed,” Witmondt told the council, adding the larger suites would accommodate families and friends as opposed to smaller, hotel-style rooms.
Myrin and Mullins, however, said Aspen has plenty of hotel suites but there is a demand for smaller rooms.
“I somewhat understand the marketability of these units, but I think that segment is filled by other condominiums in town, and what we need are smaller units,” Mullins said. “I can’t support approving this amendment because what we’re looking for is smaller lodging units, and we do have the inventory to address the need for larger units.”
The Boomerang’s history over the past 11 years has included various redevelopment scenarios, including one that called for an affordable-housing project that was derailed by litigation from neighbors. In 2015, the owners, who had been hamstrung by a lack of financing due to the Great Recession, reverted to the original approvals from 2006, which included 47 lodge keys, 29 lodge units, five free-market residential units and two affordable-housing units.
While the property is located within the city’s Medium-Density Residential zone district, it includes Lodge Preservation Overlay that allows for a hotel or inn.
“What they are going to do is put a big shadow over the entire neighborhood,” said resident Dick Carter, who lives in the Christiana Lodge on West Main Street, adding that, “It just damages the neighborhood. It’s just enormous and that’s not fair.”
Married couple Cheryl and Stephen Goldberg, longtime foes of the Boomerang redevelopment, also focused on the project’s size.
“It’s bigger than the (Aspen) Art Museum, which everybody is complaining about,” Cheryl Goldberg said. “It’s gigantic. It’s huge.”
Some legal issues hang over the proposal, as well.
Aspen attorney Jody Edwards, who represents some neighbors opposed to the project, insisted the city mandates that development orders expire after 10 years, “and we’re in the 11th year of this approval.”
“The underlying site development has expired; it’s gone, there’s nothing left for you to amend tonight,” he said.
Another lawyer, Mike Hoffman, speaking on behalf of the current owners who hope to become sellers, contended that the property rights remain valid.
“We have a property right in this development approval and we intend to sell that property right to Mr. Witmondt and his partner,” he said.
Other concerns emerging were whether the new owners would keep it a hotel.
Part of the ordinance, as currently written, includes language that a 20-year agreement would be enforced for the structure to “remain and operate as a small lodge,” and it would be subject to annual audits.
“Although staff supports lodge development, it is important that the property operate as a lodge and that the suites, which are proposed to be condominiumized, do not default into a different use through the ownership or management of the units. An ironclad operations agreement is needed,” reads a memo from Deputy Planning Director Jennifer Phelan to City Council.
Before the public hearing, council members, city staff, and the project team toured the Boomerang site. The historic east side of the Boomerang remains intact, while the non-historic western side was demolished in 2007.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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