Gorsuch Haus hotel plan unveiled to hundreds in Aspen
December 4, 2015
The partners in a proposed hotel at the Lift 1A base unveiled details of the 75,000-square-foot facility Thursday to an overflowing crowd of hundreds of Aspen residents and skiers.
Norway Island Partners' plan for Gorsuch Haus includes a 61-room hotel, seven condominiums that would be rented out and six wholly owned condos of up to 1,900 square feet each that would be private.
The partners — Jeff Gorsuch, Bryan Peterson and the development firm Lowe Enterprises — won't seek variances from Aspen's land-use code, according to Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises. All required parking would be underground at the site. As much as 30 percent of the affordable housing would be on site, and the remainder would be constructed elsewhere in Aspen. The building would be stepped into the mountainside and would range from two to five stories but would never exceed 49 feet, DeFrancia said.
"We're not coming in with hat in hand seeking waivers," DeFrancia said.
The partners touted the hotel's potential role in rejuvenating the Lift 1A base, which is now dominated by abandoned buildings, chain-link fences and lack of activity.
"We're in a quiet time" on the Lift 1A base, Gorsuch said. "It's begging to be wakened from a long sleep."
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He said the Gorsuch Haus would honor the Aspen Idea — the principle Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke followed in the town's redevelopment after World War II. Design Workshop is planning the project. When one audience member complained that the architecture of new buildings is making Aspen look more like Vail, Gorsuch assured her his team would honor the past with its vision for the future. He said the team is well aware of what Aspen's "tolerances are."
The hotel would be oriented north and south, stretching from the current parking area to the right of the bottom lift terminal, when looking uphill, and extending to just below Norway Island, the wooded area between the Norway trail and the bottom of Lift 1A.
A public drop-off area would be established at the top of South Aspen Street at an entrance to the hotel. Skiers and snowboarders would have easy access around the north side of the hotel. Eight or 10 steps would get them to a plaza where the bottom of Lift 1A would be located. Aspen Skiing Co. has proposed replacing the old double chair, installed in 1972, with a high-speed quad lift, a gondola or a combination of the two.
"This is a much more accessible lift compared to what it is today," DeFrancia said. The bottom terminal of the lift would be about 10 feet lower on the slope than it is currently.
The audience seemed supportive to cautiously optimistic on the hotel proposal, though the devil is always in the details in Aspen land-use issues. Numerous speakers during a question-and-answer session at the Limelight Hotel urged Norway Island Partners to find a way to extend the new chairlift farther down the steep hill.
DeFrancia stressed that nothing his group was doing would preclude the lift from being built lower on the slope, but there are numerous property owners. Norway Partners is working with the city to set up shuttle service to the hotel's lower plaza, but there is no current planning for a funicular or platter-pole lift to deliver skiers to Lift 1A.
"The best solution in the world would be to have it come down to Dean Street, like it used to," DeFrancia said.
The other major audience concern was access to the lift loading area from the Norway trail. The proposed hotel extends farther up the slope than the highest of the existing Shadow Mountain Condominiums, so it would require a hard cut to skier's right to get to the lift.
Reactions were mixed after the meeting, which was dominated by older residents. Longtime Aspen resident Sara Garton said she felt longtime residents would welcome a good proposal. The west base of the mountain is in a Rip Van Winkle scenario where political wrangling hasn't allowed changes for decades, she said.
However, another longtime Aspen resident said the hotel proposal was too tall for the site and extended too far up the mountain. The longtime Aspen Mountain skier, who didn't want his name used, said the new chairlift won't change the skiing patterns of Aspen Mountain's clientele. The majority of skiers will continue to ride the Silver Queen Gondola and ski the terrain accessing the Ajax Express lift at the mountaintop, he said.
DeFrancia said Norway Island Partners' next step will be to submit an application to the city of Aspen before the end of December. A "reasonable" expectation is that the application could go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for review in March and then on to the City Council by June or July.
Peterson said he and Gorsuch started working on the concept four years ago, eventually engaging Skico in talks. They have an option to buy the property from Skico. Lowe Enterprises joined the partnership about one year ago, bringing its development expertise.
"We want to do something that everybody wants," Peterson said.
To try to arrive at that plan, they met with numerous "stakeholders," ranging from the Aspen Rotary Club to the staunchest growth-control advocates. They listened and altered their plan, according to Peterson.
"We had a much different plan six months ago," he said.