County says no to Gwyn’s |

County says no to Gwyn’s

Allyn Harvey and Brent Gardner-Smith

The latest plea to open up the restaurant that overlooks Aspen from the bottom of Ruthie’s Run on Aspen Mountain received little sympathy from the Pitkin County Commissioners yesterday.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to allow Gwyn’s restaurant to host an evening benefit for the Aspen Buddy Program, but they declined to open the restaurant to the general public on eight nights in February and March.

“I won’t support opening it up for eight events involving the general public,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland. “Night use is a big deal to me.”

Night use of Aspen Mountain has been a big deal to many in the community for as long as it’s been proposed, although the original Sundeck restaurant was open for dinner more than 40 years ago.

The county and the city have successfully stifled efforts to build a restaurant atop Shadow Mountain since the 1960s. In 1998, while reviewing the Aspen Mountain Master Plan, the commissioners denied a request to open Lift 1A for night access to La Baita, the predecessor to Gwyn’s. The restaurant was originally called Ruthie’s.

Gwyn Knowlton, the owner of the restaurant, was hoping a limited schedule and the use of three 12-passenger Snowcats instead of the lift would convince the commissioners to approve her request.

“Snowcats will blend in with the existing grooming operations,” reads a memo Knowlton prepared for yesterday’s hearing. “Lighting impacts will be the same as or less than currently exists. Noise will be minimal and contained within the restaurant and will desist by 10 p.m.”

Knowlton asked the commissioners to issue a temporary use permit that would permit her to “gather data” on how night service affects the community, and on whether the demand really exists.

Don Sheeley, a local marketer who sits on the board of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, urged the commissioners to grant her request. Sheeley pointed out that several other major resorts in Colorado already offer night dining at mountain restaurants.

“We’ve interviewed visitors at Vail, and it’s something they actually remember and comment on,” he said. “This is a way of giving tourists a unique experience.”

Along with Vail, Winter Park, Steamboat and Keystone also offer nighttime dining on their mountains.

Knowlton also pointed out that some amount of evening dining is already allowed at the Sundeck. That restaurant, at the top of the Silver Queen Gondola, is in the second year of a three-year trial period of limited night use.

But if anything, that point backfired. While Commissioner Patti Clapper said she thought it would be all right to let her try it, Ireland and Commissioner Jack Hatfield remained steadfast in their opposition.

Hatfield even questioned the wisdom of opening Gwyn’s up for the Aspen Buddy Program benefit. “If you open the door once, don’t you open it forever?”

County planner Lance Clarke said the restaurant has been opened up for charity events in the past, but noted the county has never agreed to commercial dining. “It’s something that can be absorbed one night, but maybe not on a regular basis,” he said.

Although the commissioners would only allow the restaurant to open for the charity event, they didn’t completely snuff Knowlton’s ambitions. Only three commissioners were present, so they agreed Knowlton could present her proposal, along with an additional plan for measuring noise, lighting and other impacts, to the full commission.

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