Fate of hotel at base of Ajax still unclear
ASPEN Is it better to have 14 townhomes or a hotel equivalent in size to 11 Pitkin County courthouses at the base of Aspen Mountain?That’s the difficult decision the City Council will make on Aug. 13, when it is expected to vote on the controversial Lodge At Aspen Mountain, a 175,000-square-foot luxury hotel proposed below Lift 1A. If approved, it would be the first new hotel built in Aspen in 20 years, developers say.The council spent more than three hours on Monday reviewing the merits of Centurion Partners’ development proposal, which has been in the review process for four years. And now in its final incarnation, developers have sweetened the pot by offering more affordable housing and deed restricting the hotel rooms for 99 years. That means the rooms couldn’t be converted into fractional ownership units or condos during that period.Centurion Partners already has approval to construct 14 townhomes and 17 affordable-housing units on 2.4 acres. Centurion has started its plans to tear down the old Mine Dumps apartments on South Aspen Street and is preparing the site for 84,000 square feet of residential development.”We can’t afford to lose another [construction] season,” said John Sarpa, a principal at Centurion. “We are starting as we speak.”Sarpa told the council that he and his partners are willing to provide housing for the equivalent of 127.75 employees. They expect to employ the equivalent of 190 full-time employees throughout the year, based on 72 percent occupancy.But that didn’t seem to impress some members of the council, who wonder where the other 60-plus employees will live.”I don’t think this community can handle anymore housing deficits,” Mayor Mick Ireland said, adding that he has a problem with the hotel’s size, saying it’s as big as 11 courthouses combined.Sarpa said he and his development team have done what they can to address the council’s concerns.”We’ve done the best job we can,” he said. “It’s been four years of working to make it smaller … we would be stupid, ignorant or not listening otherwise … It’s smaller than what we’re comfortable with.”The project also will contribute to more traffic congestion during construction, which will take an estimated three years, Ireland noted.Council members agree that a lodge is needed on the west side of Aspen Mountain and it’s better than the alternative of occasionally inhabited townhomes.The council also discussed whether the community benefits Sarpa and his partners have offered are really that valuable when compared to the impacts the hotel will have on town. In particular, a new high-speed quad would replace Lift 1A, which Centurion will pay the Aspen Skiing Co. $4 million to install.However, the base of the lift would be located 230 feet farther up the mountain than the existing lower terminus of Lift 1A, council members said. The new lift is separate from the development proposal and is under the auspices of the Skico, and state’s tramway agency.Other community benefits that the hotel would offer include 254 underground public parking spaces; a snowmelt system on South Aspen Street and wider sidewalks from the new lift to Durant Avenue; and shuttle service from the gondola to the mountain’s west side, among other offerings. The project also includes 21 fractional-lodging units, four whole-ownership units, nearly 4,000 square feet of meeting space, a swimming pool and a restaurant.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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