Club proposal is ‘stylized blackmail’
The tactic of packing the Aspen City Council meetings with employees and members of the Aspen Club to effect a major zoning change is like demagoguing tea baggers to shout down health care in town hall meetings. Though their opinions count, they are not a true measure of the citizenry. And because reasoned opposition gets drowned out by the volume of vested interest, the real issues are lost in the din.
In reality, a city-wide poll or vote should determine if the Aspen Area Community Plan should be changed to allow hotel and timeshare development in residential neighborhoods. If precedence is set, other developers will push and litigate for the same, and their echoing argument that more-profitable zoning variances are better than the consequences will continue as stylized blackmail.
In the case of the Aspen Club and Spa’s rebirth as the cleverly-named “Aspen Club Living,” the argument has been expanded by the timeshare developers there as a too-big-to-fail concept. If they are not allowed to build 20 timeshare units (14 townhomes and six condominiums) to be used as hotel rooms as well, 12 employee housing units, and an underground parking lot, they would have to scrape the Club and build several large homes. Since the Club employs people, and members like the facility, Club advocates say the City Council should OK the development’s request for a radical zoning change.
It must be remembered that the applicant is an LLC, a limited liability company, whose other members hold a 65 percent majority of equity, and not the friendly face of the resident 35 percent owner and manager. An LLC’s member can be any person, partnership, other LLCs, corporations or other foreign entities – i.e., read multi-multi leveraged. Profits from an LLC are more easily taxed as members’ income and not taxed at the corporate rate. If the layered absentee owners decided to sell the vested development rights after gaining a zoning change “to save the Aspen Club,” neither the owner/manager nor the city could do anything about it.
So, what or who are the other LLC members? How leveraged are they? So far the City Council has only seen and questioned the affable minority LLC member, Michael Fox. Why don’t the majority members of the LLC show up at City Council meetings and answer the hard questions?
In reading Fox’s March 1, 2010 response to the City Council’s tough questions of Feb. 23, 2010, at aspenpitkin.com, there is still no guarantee of permanence and survivability vis-à-vis the “public benefits,” which were stated as the reason for approval.
Look around town. There are issues with the Dancing Bear timeshare financing, the promissory note for the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, the bankruptcy of the old Stage 3 Theatre development, the imbroglio of lenders involved with WestPac and the Viceroy Hotel, the daily headlines of leveraged developments that are failing and timeshare contracts in litigation. None of this inspires confidence. Like Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) in the stock market, timeshares sell during the froth of a booming market.
Getting zoning changes in a flat market makes the investment more salable if down the road the cloaked financing were to waver.
Another issue is the revisionist history and forgotten promises surrounding the Club. When Dick Butera owned the Club in 1996 he asked for a variance to build a service and special-needs parking lot on Ute Avenue, and luxury homes in what was (and is still supposed to be) the main parking area off the Highway 82 entrance. Instead of building the homes to save the Club, which was Butera’s argument for the variance, he sold the rights to the current LLC owners. Now they are using the same save-the-Club argument for a third time and the promises that were made the first time to limit traffic on Ute Avenue and retain the Highway 82 entrance were dropped by the Club and never enforced by the city.
In short, building out the designated parking area was not enough to save the Club. Now they want to build out the tennis courts to save the Club. Word is that their tennis members are leaving.
As it stands now, Ute Avenue has become the de facto main entrance to the Club and traffic is insufferable on the dead-end street. At present, the intersection of Original and Ute needs a four-way-stop. There, Aspen Alps vehicles perpetually cross and pedestrians and bicyclists dodge cars and trucks while accessing the East End trail system to the North Star Preserve. Crosswalks should be painted there as well. In the winter vehicles slide into parked cars, trying to take the curve without stopping.
In the summer, speed bumps are needed along the Ute straight-away before the Ute Cemetery, where hotel shuttles, members, employees and service vehicles drive too fast to the Club. Coming back from the cul-de-sac (which they all must do), the stop sign at the west end of Ute is ignored by most drivers. The city could balance their budget if a policeman stood there and gave tickets to every vehicle that rolled through that stop sign.
Traffic problems would only compound with a hotel spa at the end of the street.
For all these reasons, and because I am an East End resident, I ask the City Council to say no to this Trojan horse development.
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