Hotel still too big, city says | AspenTimes.com

Hotel still too big, city says

Janet Urquhart

With the Lodge at Aspen Mountain headed toward defeat, developers of the hotel were given a one-month reprieve Monday to whittle more height and mass from their building.The City Council voted unanimously to continue the conceptual hearing on the hotel to Nov. 28 after project spokesman John Sarpa made it clear the development team wouldn’t press the council for a vote – likely a “no” vote – last night.The council appeared split, 2-2, on the project – a tie vote would spell its rejection. Councilman Jack Johnson has recused himself from the deliberations, as he lives in the Mine Dump Apartments, which would be razed to make way for the proposed hotel.Developers lopped about 4,000 square feet of floor area and about 11 feet of height off the planned structure before Monday’s review, after some council members balked at its size a month ago. Interior space was also reconfigured in order to drop one level off the central portion of the hotel.”We don’t know how to build a hotel here and do something different,” Sarpa said. Either the team will return with additional changes to the design, or the property owners will fall back on previously approved plans for 14 townhomes plus affordable housing on the South Aspen Street property, he predicted.”That’s a crazy outcome. That’s a tragic outcome,” he said of the latter development plan.”I think it would be a travesty to go back to those original approvals,” Mayor Helen Klanderud agreed.Councilwoman Rachel Richards acknowledged the hotel’s positives, which would bring new vitality to the Lift 1A neighborhood, but said she continued to struggle with the height of the building – about 50 feet above grade, with chimneys and elevator shafts that extend still higher – and its roughly 180,000 square feet of above-grade space.”I really just cannot go there for the totality of the size, the height …” she said.Richards said she is also trying to envision the South Aspen Street neighborhood, where the Holland House and Skiers Chalet are likely to see redevelopment across the street.”What does that street feel like? It has the potential to be one of the most exciting streets in our town – to recapture that old ski character. If it [the hotel] is too big, it won’t do that,” she said.Sarpa argued that the project meets a balance between what Aspen needs in terms of guest accommodations and Aspen’s aesthetic.”We really think this is the right thing for Aspen, it’s the right thing for that side of the mountain,” he said.”I don’t like Vail any more than you do,” Sarpa said later, arguing the developers had worked to make the project “less Vail-like.”Councilman Torre voiced support for the project, though he said he would give the project tough scrutiny at its final review, if it wins conceptual approval.”I’m not concerned about stopping this project at conceptual right now,” he said.Klanderud didn’t reiterate her views, but last month she voiced support for the project design at that point.Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss praised the design but wanted proof that economics are driving the size and mass of the building beyond the underlying zoning restrictions. If the city hired a financial analyst who found justification for the size, DeVilbiss said he might be swayed into supporting the project.The hotel, in its most recent iteration, is slated to include 80 standard short-term guest rooms and one-bedroom suites, 22 suites to be sold in fractional shares and four free-market condominiums that will each be about 4,000 square feet. The plans include 156 underground parking spaces, and Sarpa said Monday that the developers may consider constructing another 80 to serve the area.Replacement of Lift 1A is also part of the plan, but Richards questioned how much could come out of the hotel if the project wasn’t financing the lift, too. She suggested the city explore a mechanism like tax incremental financing to help shoulder some costs. After establishing a TIF district, a municipality can borrow money based on the anticipated increase in property values as a result of redevelopment within it. The financing is typically used to pay for public improvements.”I just have to go with my deepest instincts here,” she said in withholding support for the hotel.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com