Buttermilk: What will it be when it grows up?
November 17, 2007
ASPEN ” The Aspen Skiing Co. is beginning to work on a plan that could eventually add free-market housing or lodging and affordable units for workers at the base of Buttermilk.
The Skico is preparing to hire Design Workshop to reassess earlier assumptions about the Buttermilk base area development and come up with an updated plan, said Skico Vice President of Planning and Development David Corbin. Design Workshop’s work will likely take six months, he said.
Many factors that will influence the redevelopment are in flux, so any work could be years away. Corbin said it’s not as simple as planning what to do with roughly 100 acres Skico owns at the ski area base. Pitkin County’s plans to expand the airport runway could affect the property, as could plans to make public-owned parking areas an integral part of a transit system.
In addition, a key parcel at the base of the ski area is owned by the Inn at Aspen. While the Skico and inn owners have discussed plans for redevelopment, they might not be on the same schedule, Corbin said.
Development at the Buttermilk base has long been on the back burner for the Skico. Buttermilk sells the fewest lift tickets of the Skico’s four ski areas, but it found its niche this decade as home of ESPN’s Winter X Games.
The latest master plan for the base and ski hill facilities was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service and Pitkin County in 1999. The base development hasn’t been pursued.
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Various factors are slowly reviving the Buttermilk planning. The company has a small development arm and the bulk of its time has been devoted, in recent years, to planning Skico facilities at Base Village in Snowmass Village, Corbin said.
The Skico is opening a 25,000-square-foot children’s center called the Tree House at Base Village this month. Most of the planning for Skico’s other facilities has been completed. Related/WestPac is the owner and developer of Base Village and will phase in retail, residential and lodging space over the next few years.
With Skico facilities at Base Village completed or planned, the development team can focus elsewhere. Corbin said it is imperative for the Skico to improve facilities for its successful Powder Pandas children’s ski school program. The facilities aren’t befitting a world-class resort, he said. It might require a temporary solution while grander redevelopment planning takes place.
Also working in Buttermilk’s favor is Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan’s priority on strategic planning since taking the helm of the company about one year ago. The Skico has acquired two existing properties ” one in Carbondale and the other in El Jebel ” for affordable housing for its workers and it has acquired other downvalley sites for future housing.
The current ” albeit outdated ” master plan for the Buttermilk base identifies it as a major hub for Skico affordable housing.
“The entire Base Area Master Plan has been designed in response to ski area operating needs, accommodation of community transportation plans and the ongoing crisis-level requirement for affordable housing,” the 1999 plan says.
It envisions a grid style of development that features a transit center on Highway 82 and skier services close to the slopes, with a mix of retail shops and affordable housing in between. The plan contemplated 73 units of affordable housing in a first phase, with more to follow.
Corbin said he isn’t certain that the plan is relevant now, nearly nine years later. Without a doubt, the base of Buttermilk will be examined for Skico’s affordable housing needs.
“We’re currently looking at any and all opportunities for affordable housing for our employees ” the length of the valley,” he said.
When re-examining a development plan, it must begin with skier services. A big part of that is a new children’s center, he said.
Next, Corbin wants to plug affordable housing into the formula. Finally, he wants to look at the components necessary to pay for the affordable housing. That could mean free-market housing units or lodging.
Corbin said 73 units of affordable housing are probably “optimistic” given the physical constraints of the land, the cost and the free-market development necessary to pay for the affordable housing.
Part of Design Workshop’s job will be to assess the politically acceptable level of development at Buttermilk’s base, both among the public and elected officials.
Using the area for significant affordable housing requires an increased amount of economic drivers, Corbin noted. So if a substantial number of free-market townhouses or condominiums were needed to fund construction of a substantial amount of affordable housing, the development would have to go up since there isn’t a great potential for it to go out.
“Will the public and private sectors have an appetite for a four-story structure?” Corbin asked.
The Skico will have a better idea next summer what it wants to pursue at the smallest of its ski areas.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.