City should bring in pros to protect Ajax base area
Dear Editor:(This letter was originally addressed to the Aspen City Council.)When you approved the conceptual plans for the Residences at Little Nell, you granted numerous and significant variances to the developer based on your perception and the developer’s representations that this project would provide a new vitality at the base of Aspen Mountain. In return for approvals to build a much larger building, the developer promised to add new energy to the gondola area by building a new restaurant, expanding the gondola deck, and providing regular and frequent après-ski entertainment. The restaurant was described as a place priced so that the entire economic spectrum of our community could enjoy après-ski.In the latest hearing, the developer’s representative, Mr. Sunny Vann, explained that a 9-foot increase in building height from conceptual to final plan “reflects the evolution of the project and a better accounting of what’s really there.” I can only assume that the restaurant, now described as a bigger, better Ajax Tavern-type operation, also reflects the natural evolution from a place for all, toward a private and exclusive restaurant for the new luxury condominiums.Will further evolution and project refinement modify the restaurant into a party pavilion with token community open houses? Will the regular and frequent après-ski activity evolve into an evening of music a few times a year, with a couple of days of carolers at Christmas?Will the promise of a vibrant, active gondola area, a gathering place for visitors and locals alike, evolve with the developer’s further refinement into simply an expansion of the Ajax Tavern concept?In a few short years, the developers and managers of the Residences at Little Nell will have sold their condominiums and enjoyed the profits that were greatly increased by the variances granted by council.They will have little incentive to subsidize après-ski, or to operate a popular-priced restaurant unless it adds to their profits, or unless they have entered into comprehensive, strict, well-drafted covenants, and an operating agreement with the city that requires, for the long term, the amenities and activities envisioned and promised during the conceptual plan approval.Given the complex nature of these types of agreements, and the lengthy time period that these agreements cover, perhaps it would be wise for the council to supplement the knowledge of its city attorney and staff. The developers will use the expertise of their many partners and skilled consultants to minimize their future commitments.The council, to protect the community’s interest, would be well-advised to hire experienced professionals who are skilled in drafting such agreements and operating covenants, and who regularly and routinely negotiate them. In addition, council itself will have to review these documents with a careful “what if” skepticism.The protection of long-term vitality at the base of Aspen Mountain will only be as good as the written agreements and the teeth in those agreements. Given the importance of the base area – it’s the only one we have – this action is not micromanagement, but simply prudent and appropriate protection of community interests.Steve FalenderAspen
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