City refuses to make deal on Bavarian Inn
Aspen’s elected officials stood nose to nose with a “thousand-pound gorilla” this week when they declined to accept a developer’s proposal in a housing-mitigation dispute.
The City Council has asked Savanah Limited Partnership to put on a presentation explaining why the city should “compromise” in deciding which part of Savanah’s complicated development package should benefit from construction of the Bavarian Inn affordable housing project.
The Bavarian Inn mitigation debate, which has been simmering for more than a year, was termed “the thousand-pound gorilla” in a discussion before the council on Tuesday.
Savanah, the original developer of the former Ritz-Carlton Aspen (now the St. Regis hotel) is nearing the end of the city’s initial development review, known as the “conceptual review,” regarding plans to redevelop the old Bavarian Inn lodge on Seventh Street. The plan would create 19 affordable housing units.
Savanah has owned the old lodge for more than a decade, since before the 1990 election in which Aspen voters gave their approval for development of the Ritz.
So far, the company has been using the Bavarian to house Savanah employees and held off on the redevelopment plans.
Some citizens, however, have argued that the Bavarian should have been redeveloped into affordable housing units years ago. They maintain that Savanah promised the voters in the 1990 election campaign that if the Ritz ballot question won approval, Savanah would built up to 90 affordable housing units on the Bavarian site as the company’s contribution to solving the town’s critical housing problems.
Savanah, however, has insisted the company made no such promises. Savanah, and company representative John Sarpa in particular, have said use of the Bavarian as mitigation for the Ritz was not part of the Ritz approvals.
Today, at the same time the Bavarian project is being reviewed, Savanah has proposed a redevelopment plan for the Grand Aspen Hotel and Top of Mill properties at the base of Aspen Mountain.
City Attorney John Worcester, among others, described the Bavarian mitigation debate as “the thousand-pound gorilla,” implying that everyone has known the issue would come up, but nobody was acknowledging it or talking about it until the end of Savanah’s conceptual development review of the Bavarian plans.
He said it was decided to hold off on the mitigation discussion to give Savanah a chance to “prove … what a great project they have” in the Bavarian Inn proposal, so the City Council might be more favorably inclined toward a compromise position in the mitigation debate.
What Savanah wants, said Sarpa, is to use “some portion” of the Bavarian’s affordable units to offset the expected requirement to house 29 employees of the redeveloped Grand Aspen. The remaining units, he said, could then become part of the community’s general housing inventory.
The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority board has already voted against such a compromise, concluding that the Bavarian Inn redevelopment was promised during the 1990 election campaign and therefore should be built and handed over to the housing office.
And at least some at City Hall feel the same way.
Worcester, in describing the 1990 ballot question, noted that the Bavarian was mentioned specifically in connection with voter approval of the Ritz, “similar to a condition of approval.”
Worcester said getting the Bavarian Inn affordable housing built “obviously was the intent of the question.”
And Mayor Rachel Richards cited what she called “campaign promises” that appeared in local advertisements and in statements by Savanah officials.
“I believe unequivocally the development of the Bavarian was an inducement to the voters” to win their approval for the Ritz project, Richards said.
Sarpa suggested that a judge might not agree with her, but added, “This is not a slam-dunk legal situation for either side.”
City Council members Tony Hershey and Terry Paulson both indicated they might be swayed to Savanah’s position, depending on the division of units between Savanah and the city. Council member Tom McCabe said he was “leaning more toward Rachel’s position,” and council member Jim Markalunas was absent from the meeting.
In the end, the council asked Sarpa to state his case for the compromise at the next hearing on Savanah’s development plans, scheduled for Dec. 6.
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