Council visualizes Ajax base
ASPEN ” Now that Aspen City Council has killed a hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain, the future of arguably the most underused part of the resort remains in flux.
Last week, when City Council shot down the Lodge at Aspen Mountain ” a 151,000-square-foot facility with 73 hotel rooms and 25 fractional condos ” elected officials were full of reasons why they didn’t want the project to be built.
The three councilmen who voted against the project ” Mayor Mick Ireland, and Jack Johnson and J.E. DeVilbiss ” said it was too big, there weren’t enough hotel rooms, the developer wasn’t credible, promises on making the building environmentally sound and housing 100 percent of the project’s work force weren’t believable, and the community amenities offered were too vague, among other reasons.
So what would they like to see at the base of the resort’s flagship mountain?
“Lodging, affordable housing on site and a chairlift coming into town,” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “You want to talk about putting life back onto that site? You put affordable housing there. And imagine a ski town where you could actually ski into town.”
Centurion Partners, the developers of the lodge, said they would pay $4 million toward a new Lift 1A on the Shadow Mountain side of Ajax’s base. But in order to preserve three parcels below and around the current terminal for future development, the lift would have to be moved 125 feet up the hill. However, Aspen Skiing Co. officials said that because the end South Aspen Street would be moved up, the distance to the new lift would be no more than what it is now from Durant Avenue to the gondola plaza.
Ireland and some of his other colleagues have questioned that premise. They said didn’t believe that moving the lift farther up the hill was a community benefit.
In fact, Ireland and others would like the lift to come farther down than its current location.
City Councilman Jack Johnson agreed.
“The lift should come down as far as possible,” he said.
But it’s a moot point now because Skico officials have said they won’t pay for a new lift ” it was only going to be built if the Lodge at Aspen Mountain was approved.
But what likely will be built are 14 townhomes and 17 affordable housing units on the west side of South Aspen Street, where the Mine Dump apartments were.
Centurion already had approval for that development but preferred to build the hotel.
On the other side of the street, the Lift One Lodge is being proposed and will go before City Council in the next couple of months.
Johnson said the entire area at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side should have been master-planned years ago. The city of Aspen owns land there, as well as private developers and the Skico.
“It’s a great opportunity for the city, the Skico and the community,” Johnson said. “There needs to be a big conversation between the town and the Skico. It’s not only advisable but necessary.”
He also would like to see the historic preservation of buildings in the area and far more hotel rooms than what was proposed at the Lodge at Aspen Mountain.
“All that stuff can happen if everybody talks at the same time and it’s not piecemeal,” Johnson said.
City Councilman Dwayne Romero, who voted for the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, said he was satisfied with the proposal and it had all the elements necessary to revive that part of the mountain.
“I felt like we had a pretty good project there,” Romero said, adding that Centurion offered to house all of its employees and had set environmental standards far ahead of the city. “If we went back and master planned that area, do we think we would have gotten a better project? I don’t think so.”
If anything were to change, Romero would like to see more affordable hotel rooms in the mix.
“They don’t all have to be 500-square-foot suites,” he said. “I would like to see a lodge and hotel with plenty of beds and candidly, more than what was proposed.”
City Councilman Steve Skadron, who also voted for the Centurion proposal, said he wants to make sure that side of the mountain is accessible to all segments of the population. That would be possible with two hotels, one perhaps a smaller boutique property with expensive rooms and another with more affordable offerings.
Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss said he would like to see a smaller hotel with more rooms. He also said he believes a master plan for the area would have eliminated many of the problems he saw with the Lodge at Aspen Mountain.
“I think it would be far more preferable to master plan all of South Aspen Street,” DeVilbiss said, adding that there was an attempt years ago, but organizers failed to get the area’s property owners to agree. “That certainly would have been the answer.”
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