Gwyn’s OK’d for night use |

Gwyn’s OK’d for night use

Jeremy Heiman

Evening dining by candlelight will begin at Gwyn’s on Aspen Mountain on Feb. 22.

The Pitkin County Commissioners approved a revamped plan Tuesday to operate the restaurant eight nights during the remainder of the ski season.

Gwyn’s will get a special-use permit for two evening benefit events and six nights open to the public in late February and throughout March. The public dining nights will likely be on Thursdays, said Gwyn Knowlton, who operates the restaurant.

The two charity events have not been scheduled, Knowlton said. A fund-raiser for Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club will probably occur near the end of the ski season. The other event will benefit the Aspen Buddy Program.

Diners will be ferried to the restaurant by three snowcats, each making a maximum of two trips up the mountain per evening. Knowlton said her plan will actually reduce the light coming from the restaurant. Currently, electric lighting used by caretakers can be seen from town.

“Actually, it will be dimmer by far,” she said.

However, the county will require Knowlton to keep data on light pollution, noise, parking, air quality impacts and public notices of use dates in local newspapers. A safety and evacuation plan are also required.

The board granted the approval, against the recommendation of the county’s planning staff, by a 4-to-1 vote. Commissioner Jack Hatfield opposed the proposal, stating that he felt approval would undermine the master plan created for Aspen Mountain in 1998.

“I do support what you’re asking for, but I’m not going to vote for it,” Hatfield said.

“Somebody has to support the master plan,” he added, noting that the project was assured of the other four commissioners’ votes.

“Master plans don’t always see everything in the future,” said Commissioner Shellie Roy. The town needs the added attraction of night dining on the mountain to draw business, she said.

“I think we have to try this,” agreed Commissioner Dorothea Farris.

She observed that master plans should be “living documents,” able to be amended when appropriate, rather than rigid.

Supporters filled the commissioners’ meeting room for a special meeting Tuesday.

Phil Whittingham, who arranges corporate tours, told the commissioners he thinks Gwyn’s night use idea could be an added attraction for Aspen.

“She’s extending a benefit and adding value,” Whittingham said. “Instead of taking smaller slices of the same pie, she’s offering to bake a bigger pie. And we all know nobody bakes a better pie than Gwyn.”

Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards said concerns about Aspen’s business climate are not unfounded.

“It’s nice to have new attractions to market,” she said. She offered the support of the city to Knowlton’s project.

Aspen Skiing Co. Chief Operating Officer John Norton observed that 80,000 people per season use Vail’s Adventure Ridge, a nonskiing activities area on the mountain open in the evenings. As many as 60,000 of them dine on the ridge, he said.

There was only one real dissenting comment. Aspen attorney Fred Peirce, representing Ashcroft Ski Touring and other concerns, told the commissioners he thinks the request should go through a full hearing process, rather than getting a temporary use permit. He agreed with Hatfield’s observation that the spot approval undermines the master planning process that was the subject of numerous meetings in 1998.

After the decision, Knowlton said she would invite Aspenites to celebrate with her on the first evening open. “It was so wonderful to see the community support,” she said.

“I’m really excited,” Knowlton said. “It’s going to be fun.”

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