Despite conflicts, hotel review proceeds
ASPEN The majority of the Aspen City Council has a conflict of interest in a proposed hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain but must vote on the proposal anyway.Citing a “rule of necessity,” City Attorney John Worcester on Monday advised the council that even though three of its five members have a conflict with the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, they can’t recuse themselves from reviewing the development application.According to city and state laws, all of the City Council members must review the project to achieve a quorum.Councilmen Dwayne Romero, Steve Skadron and Jack Johnson all stated before Monday’s presentation that they have conflicts of interest, leaving only Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss to vote on the project.”As much fun as it would be to have a 1-1 vote,” Ireland joked, deferring to Worcester for advice.DeVilbiss responded by joking that he and Centurion principal John Sarpa wear the same belt buckle and therefore he must recuse himself.But in all seriousness, Romero cited a conflict of interest because he is associated with Steeplechase Partners, which serves as project managers on the Residences at The Little Nell, which Centurion Partners, the firm presenting the hotel project, is developing. Skadron has a conflict because he approved the project when he was a Planning & Zoning commissioner. Johnson lives in an apartment at the Mine Dumps that will be razed and replaced by the project.The “rule of necessity” is what Centurion developers were banking on to have a full council to review their proposal, which has gone through several incarnations since 2003. Convinced that the Lodge at Aspen Mountain wasn’t going to get an unanimous approval on May 14 from a three-person City Council because its former members also had conflicts, representatives from Centurion Partners successfully requested that the review of their 80-room hotel be continued to Monday’s meeting.And so with a full council review, Sarpa and his development team spent more than an hour presenting their plan, which has been reviewed ad naseum for four years. The project also includes 21 fractional-lodging units, nearly 4,000 square feet of meeting space, a swimming pool, a restaurant and affordable housing.Sarpa recapped his reasons for approval for the 175,000-square-foot hotel near the base of Lift 1A: It will be deed-restricted for 35 years, meaning the hotel rooms couldn’t be converted into fractional-ownership units or condos. It’s never been offered before. As part of its own construction management plan, Centurion has agreed to have its construction workers park at the intercept lot at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82 and use mass transit into Aspen. Onsite tool storage will be available. Dump truck trips have been reduced to 45 a day during the season, and 60 dump truck trips will occur in shoulder seasons. No construction activity will occur on weekends or holidays. The affordable housing requirement is double what the city requires. There will be 53 units, housing 108 people: 28 units at the base of Smuggler Mountain, nine at the Aspen Business Center and 16 units onsite. More than 60 percent of the building is below 42 feet high, the city’s maximum height restriction. The development encompasses cutting-edge green technology. The hotel will generate $2 million in sales taxes annually. It’s the first hotel proposed in 20 years in a city that has lost more than 1,000 hotel rooms in the past decade. The development has nearly 100 percent support from its neighbors. That’s partly the result of the developers working with area residents on their concerns, but it’s also because Centurion Partners already has approval to construct 14 townhomes and 17 affordable housing units on 2.4 acres. If the council denies the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, Centurion will go ahead with 84,000 square feet of residential development. Developers will build a new high-speed chairlift to replace the old Lift 1A, as well as a snowmelt system on South Aspen Street and sidewalks from the new lift to Durant Avenue. City staff recommends approving the project because Aspen needs more hotel rooms, is compatible with the area, and there are public amenities. The Lodge at Aspen Mountain would donate $1 from each per night room to local nonprofits. The lodge also would offer vocational training in the hospitality industry to high school students and young professionals. The company also plans to pay full-time employees to do charity work in the community. The meeting room space will be offered for free or at a deep discount to area nonprofits.Still, the City Council questioned many aspects of the proposal, which will be up for review again in July.
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