Hunt yanks Aspen Base2 lodge project
Developer Mark Hunt has nixed his Base2 hotel project on Main Street in the wake of a successful petition drive that could have forced it to a public vote.
Mitch Haas of Haas Land Planning LLC informed the city’s Community Development Department about the decision Wednesday.
“After a good deal of thought, my client has decided to vacate the Base2 Lodge approvals and will not go forward with campaigning or the public vote process,” Haas wrote in a letter to Community Development Director Chris Bendon and senior planner Sara Adams. “It has become clear to the applicant that this approval is no longer about maintaining an accessible lodging base in town but rather a contentious political debate that splits the community. Therefore, the applicant wishes to simply withdraw the application and abandon/vacate the approval.”
Hunt had previously hinted that he might not wage a campaign for Base2, so his decision wasn’t a surprise to observers such as Ward Hauenstein, who teamed with Marcia Goshorn in the petition effort.
“I think it should be viewed that the people of Aspen really care about proper development and reasonable development,” Hauenstein said. “For our town, I think it’s a demonstration of people having something they really care about, and by speaking up for their beliefs, they can prevail.”
Aspen City Council was scheduled to decide at its upcoming Monday meeting, as a result of the petition drive, whether to rescind the ordinance approving the Base2 lodge or refer it to voters in the November election.
But with Hunt’s decision to withdraw the application, the issue is seemingly moot.
With Hunt’s withdrawal notice, City Clerk Linda Manning said the Base2 issue has now taken the posture of a three-pronged formality: At Monday’s City Council meeting she will inform elected officials the petition was verified and no one protested it, Hunt’s letter by way of Haas will be presented and Manning will recommend to the council to repeal the ordinance. Less clear are Hunt’s plans for the Main Street property now that he won’t build a lodge there. Hunt also had said that his business model for both the Base2 and Base1 lodges wouldn’t work unless both were built. The Base1 lodge, which will replace the Buckhorn Arms Building near City Market on Cooper Avenue, will have 42 bedrooms. Base2 called for 37 bedrooms.
Message left with Hunt and Haas were not returned Wednesday.
Hunt’s decision to pull the project comes after City Council approved the Base2 ordinance June 1. The ordinance would have allowed Hunt to develop a 15,000-square-foot lodge at the corner of East Main and Monarch streets.
That exceeded the 7,500-square-foot threshold allowed for that location, and City Council also gave Hunt waivers for housing and setback requirements, while Hunt promised to find 15 off-site parking spaces to accommodate lodge guests.
The space, which Hunt’s Chicago-based 232 East Main Street LLC bought for $6 million in June 2014, currently is occupied by a Conoco service station.
The Base2 ordinance was passed, however, during a divisive political climate — one fueled by debates over the continued makeover of downtown Aspen — that had seen the passage of Referendum 1 by Aspen voters during the May 5 election.
Referendum 1, an amendment to the Home Rule Charter Amendment, mandates that the City Council no longer give land-use variances to downtown commercial projects on height, mass, parking, affordable housing and viewplanes. Development proposals out of scope with city land-use rules would have to go to voters.
But City Attorney Jim True said the Base2 land-use application did not require a public vote because it was filed with the city before Referendum 1 passed.
That sparked the petition drive that rallied a core group of Aspenites who argued that the City Council ignored the will of the electorate by approving the Base2 ordinance.
Hauenstein said he wanted voters to decide on Base2 to send City Council a message “that we don’t want to see these variances” and because eight other land-use applications seeking concessions, filed before Referendum 1 passed, will go before the council.
“The more I talk to people in the community, the more I feel that we all share the same views,” he said. “It’s really time that City Council listened to the community.”
City Councilman Adam Frisch said he likely would have pushed for Base2 to go to a public vote.
“I think for the better part, the community spoke, even though they said they want moderate lodging,” he said. “But the community doesn’t seem to be willing to take whatever trade-offs or sacrifices that might be needed to make it happen.”
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