Bigger, snazzier Sundeck clears final hurdle | AspenTimes.com
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Bigger, snazzier Sundeck clears final hurdle

A bigger, snazzier and somewhat more exclusive Sundeck cleared a final hurdle – barely – in the complicated Pitkin County review process Tuesday night.

The Sundeck proposal received a passing “score” from the county planning commission, but one that hardly singled it out as a stellar project.

In a process called growth-management-quota system scoring, the Sundeck was reviewed on about 12 criteria ranging from adequate sewage and water service to visual impacts from surrounding mountains.

The Aspen Mountain restaurant received a score of 38 out of a possible 61. However, that was good enough to meet a minimum threshold of 36.6 required for any project to pass.

The biggest concerns raised by planning commissioners were over effects of construction on Little Annie Road and the visual impacts of a new building that will be about 80 percent larger than the current venerable old restaurant.

The passing grade clears the way for the Aspen Skiing Co. to construct a 21,600-square-foot structure this year. The new Sundeck will house a cafeteria with seating for 210 people, a public sit-down restaurant that seats 85, and the private Aspen Mountain Club that includes a private restaurant for 100.

“The schedule for this building is to start construction an hour after we close Aspen Mountain for the season,” said Bill Kane, Skico vice president of building and development.

Kane said the existing Sundeck is outdated by standards of today’s ski industry.

“It’s a missed opportunity for us and it’s a missed opportunity for the people who come to Aspen Mountain,” he said, noting the Sundeck is “notorious” for its lunch lines because the restaurant has a total capacity of 240.

The public will be better served and the Skico will capitalize in a business sense from the expanded Sundeck, according to Kane.

The private club will likely be one of the most exclusive social organizations in town. The Skico has discussed selling memberships, complete with lifetime ski passes, for about $75,000.

Larry Yaw, the Skico’s architect on the project, stressed that the new Sundeck will befit Aspen by combining design elements of the area’s mining heritage with international mountain character.

The Skico should be credited, he said, “for not wanting to plunk another mega-log cabin on their mountain.” They have resisted the architectural style that’s so trendy at resorts, evident at places like Vail Mountain, said Yaw.

The new Sundeck will essentially be oriented like the existing building, with Highlands and the mountains to the southwest dominating the views. However, it received low marks from the planning commission for visual impacts, primarily because it will press county height limits. At places, it will exceed the 38-foot ridge point limit, thanks to exemptions that were granted.

Planning commission member Doug Unfug said the Sundeck proposal was drastically improved over earlier versions, but he was still concerned with the bulk that will be presented to skiers facing the structure.

Skico’s Kane said he understands concerns about building heights in the context of urban environments, where they are surrounded by other structures. But the Sundeck will be a stand-alone building where a height difference of one foot will not be discernible.

He noted that the county commissioners raised concerns about height when they reviewed the proposal and ordered the Skico to assess effects of leaving the height as proposed or doing greater excavation at the site. Digging deeper, he said, would require hauling more fill off the mountain.

Planning commission member Steve Whipple said he was already concerned about how Little Annie Road will handle construction traffic. The Skico has agreed to make improvements to the road, then return it to its old condition when the work is through. Whipple noted, however, that restoration is ill-defined.

“I want to get bounced around,” said Whipple said of his adventures on the semi-backcountry road. “I want to have to drive slow.”

Whipple further explained that he is concerned about traffic for both residents and recreational users of Little Annie. It’s a popular route for mountain bikers, snowmobilers and four-wheelers. The Skico plans to keep using the road from April to January 2000, and will plow it during the first half of next winter.

Kane said the Skico will further define how it will handle traffic in its construction management plan, which the county can review and alter before issuing a building permit. He noted that construction workers will carpool and that four freight cars have been purchased for the Silver Queen Gondola to ease construction traffic.

The scoring for the Sundeck was completed by Whipple, Unfug and Peter Martin despite various minor objections. They endorsed a score assigned by the planning staff.


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