Council OKs Limelight plan

Kimberly Nicoletti

The City Council put one of the most emotionally charged decisions it has faced to rest Monday when it approved the Limelight Lodge redevelopment.But before the council voted 4-1 in favor of the project, Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss, who cast the dissenting vote, accused staff members of wanting the Limelight Lodge redevelopment to pass so badly that they had to “sneak through an amendment to the land-use code that would allow the Limelight Lodge without even mentioning the Limelight Lodge.”Mayor Helen Klanderud told DeVilbiss his allegations were inappropriate, and after at least half of the people in the room applauded for various viewpoints, Klanderud put a stop to the outbursts, saying, “I don’t think we need to engender the emotional process.”In the end, she pointed out that the debate probably was one of the most emotionally charged council had been involved with, other than the Burlingame affordable housing project.Architect John Cottle presented a modified plan to a packed room. The new proposal changed the roof line of the residential building, pulling the third floor back from Cooper Avenue and Aspen Street. Fronting the building with a two-story element reduces shading on neighboring buildings and walkways and makes the structure “less visually imposing,” said architect Robin Schiller. Architects reduced the size of the residential component by 2 percent, making it 38 percent of the project. They also cut the number of free-market units from 17 to 15 (one unit in the lodge, 14 in the residential component).The team kept the 125 lodging rooms and simply pulled back part of the facade on Monarch Street to make the building more interesting, rather than the monolithic profile council members and neighboring property owners criticized last month.But the changes did not satisfy everyone. Roof heights on the residential building reached 41.83 feet; owners at 210 Cooper had hoped architects would bring them closer to the 28-foot limit for residential structures when not attached to a lodging project.Andrea Clark, an owner at 210 Cooper, said she found it offensive that the Limelight team said it reduced heights on the residential component, rather than starting at 28 feet in the beginning. She maintained the team is entitled only to 28 feet.”You are going to violate your own code again by not looking at that carefully,” she told the City Council during the public hearing.Clark’s husband, attorney Jim French, wrote a letter to the City Council opposing the project on a dozen points, including street width misrepresentations, poor studies of the maximum shadowing effect and lack of required employee housing. “What I’ve seen here tonight maybe addresses 10 percent of the issues we brought up,” he said.After about 16 people spoke in favor of the redevelopment and only five spoke in opposition, Mick Ireland presented his argument, not as a county commissioner, he said, but as an individual speaking “for a significant part of the community that has concerns.” Ireland said he accepted the need for moderately priced rooms in Aspen but didn’t believe the redevelopment was worth the sacrifices. He said there is no guarantee the rooms will remain moderately priced lodge rooms. The Limelight team pointed out that the size of the rooms, at an average of 500 square feet, and the lack of amenities such as a spa and restaurant assured moderately priced rooms.Ireland also pointed out there are no prohibitions on selling the property once the project was approved, but co-owner Sue Woolery said the family is committed to continuing the Limelight tradition for another 50 years.”There’s probably more lucrative things we could do for our money, but this is our purpose – this is what we want to do,” said Forrest Woolery, co-owner Dale Paas’ nephew. “We won’t be absentee owners.”Councilwoman Rachel Richards said the City Council couldn’t reject the Limelight proposal and expect something better to come along.”The residential building has come a long way to respond to the concerns of the neighbors,” she said. “There are times when you have to say this is a very good compromise.”Councilman Jack Johnson commended the architectural design, saying it is one of the best he has seen in many years. But he said he thought the Limelight would need more employees than it said it was projecting. Klanderud said she liked the project but wanted a construction management plan, which council members agreed to turn over to the building department to oversee. She also made sure employee housing was part of the project.Though Mayor Pro Tem Torre wanted to see more decorative amenities on the outside and the height reduced by a total of 10 percent to 15 percent – or a compelling reason why architects couldn’t accommodate the request – he ultimately made a motion to approve the project.Kimberly Nicoletti’s e-mail address is