County eases its rules to get Sundeck done
The Aspen Skiing Co. butted heads with homeowners along Little Annie Road before the Pitkin County commissioners yesterday, and the company won.
The Skico received approval of three amendments to their construction management plan for a new restaurant and exclusive club atop Aspen Mountain. The company sought the changes so it can get the new Sundeck finished before snow makes it impossible to drive to the site.
Though they were ultimately granted most of what they asked for, company officials endured a barrage of criticism from Little Annie homeowners and the county commissioners.
“The size of this project is too big,” said Commissioner Leslie Lamont. “This should be a red flag for future Skico projects on top of the mountains,” she said.
Little Annie residents and the Skico have been at odds for most of the summer. The company has been using – and in the process, widening – the dirt road up the backside of Aspen Mountain to haul equipment and concrete to the construction site. The company gained the county’s reluctant permission last spring to use Little Annie Road after promising to abide by rules aimed at reducing effects on the neighborhood.
The road can be used only by large delivery trucks that can’t negotiate the steep switchbacks of Summer Road on Aspen Mountain’s front side. No trucks are allowed on the road before 9 a.m., and they must to be off the mountain and out of the Castle Creek Valley by 3:30 p.m.
The company was also allowed 10 “exception days” in the original management plan, permitting use of the road from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The plan also permitted some of the exception days to start at 6:15 a.m., to allow concrete trucks to reach the site early.
Little Annie residents came to the meeting armed with tales – and a fair amount of documentation – of the company’s failure to comply with the rules. In addition to violating the speed limits, the trucks have been damaging trees and vegetation on both sides of the road, and coming down later than permitted. In addition, residents said, pickup trucks owned by contractors and their employees have been using the road in violation of the agreement.
The residents urged the commissioners to hold the company to its original agreement, and force it to find other ways to complete the project, perhaps using the Summer Road or the gondola.
“If they need to get it done, they’ll find a way to get it done. There is too much money at stake,” said homeowner Randy Gold.
But despite pervasive evidence of rule violations, the county commissioners gave the company most of what it asked for.
By a 3-1 vote, the commissioners granted two additional “exception days,” permission to plow Little Annie Road until Oct. 1, and the right to use the road for all construction traffic if the road remains passable longer than Summer Road.
Yesterday was the second time the company has asked for additional exception days. The commissioners denied the first request on July 13.
The commissioners turned down a request to up the speed limits on all three backcountry roads – Summer, Little Annie and Midnight Mine – by 5 mph. They also ordered the company to pay for gate attendants at the top and bottom of Little Annie Road to make sure the rules are followed.
“Do you want to be done with this project this year?” Lamont asked the residents. “If they don’t get it done this year, they’ll be back next year.”
She was joined in that argument, and in approving the amendments to the construction management plan, by Commissioners Patti Clapper and Shellie Harper.
Commissioner Mick Ireland, who originally voted in favor of the project, cast the only vote against the changes.
Ireland, who has been extremely critical of the company’s failures to live up to their side of the agreement, said it was unlikely he would approve development that impacts the backcountry ever again, except for small cabins allowed under Rural and Remote zoning rules.
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