Don’t break the rules for Aspen Club
As the next City Council reckoning with the Aspen Club expansion proposal approaches on May 10, we must remember that the issue is not that the Club is a great facility with a top-shelf staff and that Aspen deserves to keep it (which we do), but that Aspen citizens deserve more than three-card-monte answers from the Aspen Club LLC timeshare developers.
To review: The re-skinned “Aspen Club Living” project proposes to build a timeshare/hotel/spa, employee housing for some of their employees, and an underground parking lot accessed by the traffic-maxed Ute Avenue, in exchange for saving the Aspen Club for an ill-defined period of time. The project will wipe out their tennis courts, be 2.25 times larger than the existing facility and 42 percent larger than the Glenwood Wal-Mart.
This might be sort of OK if it were in the commercially zoned downtown area. The problem is that they want a variance to build the timeshare/hotel in a residentially zoned neighborhood, which would open up a new precedent for developers. Without the variance they would bulldoze the club and build mansions.
Remember that earlier the Butera Aspen Club promised to save the Aspen Club, and now the Aspen Club LLC promises the same. Both used the Club as a pawn.
In the last go-round with the City Council on March 31, Mayor Ireland proposed a no-sell-out clause until the LLC’s project is completed and an exclusion of their inherited development right to scrape and then build monumental homes. Michael Fox, the companionable face of the unidentified and likely leveraged LLC, waffled, promising a $5 million facelift for the Club, and assurances that it would remain if they won approval. Yet at a prior council meeting on Feb. 22, Fox said that the Club “would not go away tomorrow; at some point, though, it probably will disappear.”
Fox bargained further to keep a majority of local membership and to guarantee a zero (yes, zero) increase in traffic on the already-overburdened Ute Avenue cul-de-sac. If the Aspen Club LLC is investing so much money in the redevelopment and says there will be no more traffic, why bother?
Subsequently – bear with me here – in an Aspen Daily News article on April 2, clarifications of the mayor’s proposal and Fox’s second thoughts on the “no-sellout-until-built provision” shed more light. Ireland said that we’ve seen too many developments change hands in midstream, and that too often successive owners were unwilling or too strapped to fulfill preceding promises made to obtain approvals.
Fox responded in the same article that a no-sell-until-built clause is “one of those issues we really have to look at and understand better,” and “I don’t want to tie ourselves in knots so we can’t actually get it built.” He further said that such a clause could make getting financing more difficult.
One would think that a project of this magnitude would already have financing, and that they’re just rarin’ to go; while, according to The Aspen Times’ “Fractional Market’s Crash …” article on April 19, fractionals fell 44 percent last year. Perhaps the Aspen Club developers know more about the red-hot timeshare market than others.
In any case, the LLC seems to be balking if they can’t have their default cards – the right to sell when they want or to build mansions. As we know so well, and headlines scream daily, established businesses suddenly change hands. We’ve seen this threat of a community loss in exchange for a zoning change too many times.
Essentially, Ireland is calling their bluff, and after so much hyperbole, rightly so.
Nevertheless, the chief concern of all Aspen citizens should be the possible atomic impact of allowing commercial development in residential neighborhoods. Add to that unrealistic promises of a no-traffic impact on the East End and a history of broken promises by the Club and we have legitimate reasons to reject this disproportionate development.
City Council should enforce the Timeshare Development ordinance and the Aspen Area Community Plan as written, and deny this viral development.