Hunt’s Main Street lodge proposal headed to council

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Mark Hunt’s Main Street lodge proposal won 4-2 approval from the Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday, which clears the way for Aspen City Council review, a first for the prominent developer.

Following a two-week continuance and concerns about mass and scale during a Nov. 19 meeting, Hunt returned to the commission Wednesday with an unaltered proposal. He plans to replace the Conoco gas station on Main Street with a 36-foot-tall, 18,700-square-foot lodge, the first of two hotel proposals from Hunt that would create a total of 77 rooms.

Special review allows for 32 feet in height and 7,500 square feet in cumulative floor area. Along with those two variances, Hunt is requesting that the city waive all affordable-housing, parking and setback requirements. Additionally, the application includes more than three times the requirement for public-amenity space, mostly made up by a rooftop patio. Hunt anticipates 190-square-foot rooms, which he has pushed as the affordable product Aspen needs.

Senior planner Sara Adams, as well as Hunt, pointed out that the project could conceivably meet the 32-foot height requirement if it were designed with a flat roof. However, Adams said that a gable roof is more in line with the surrounding neighborhood.

“I don’t want it to be taken as disrespect that there aren’t changes. I don’t know if we were looking to see a lot of changes from last time,” Hunt said. “But based on this type of product, this really is our best effort. … At the end of the day, if this is the type of product that’s needed, we need your help. We need the help of the community, the help of city council. And if it’s not the right use, then that’s fine, too.”

Applicant representative and planner Mitch Haas said if the community wants this product it will need to “swallow some variances.” The alternative, he said, hypothetically could be a bank on the ground level and retail above that.

On parking, Hunt’s team has been in communication with the City Manager’s Office about a guarantee of 25 to 50 spaces, depending on the season, in the Rio Grande Parking Garage. Those spaces would be accessed by valets.

Representing two part-time homeowners at 117 N. Monarch St., attorney Ben Genshaft was one of two people to speak during the public comment portion. He said the application is essentially a request to rezone from mixed-used to commercial-core, which allows greater dimensions.

“The building is out of place in the neighborhood, and the mass and scale just doesn’t work,” Genshaft said.

David Roth, who neighbored the Conoco site for nearly 20 years, said the proposal will drastically improve traffic. Commissioner Willis Pember cited statistics that said about 280 cars pass through the gas station daily.

Commissioner Nora Berko, one of two dissenting voters, was not convinced the city should grant Hunt’s 21-space parking waiver. She said the gas station is going away regardless because redevelopment is inevitable, whether it’s lodging or retail. She also took issue with the fact that Hunt is requesting zero setbacks, and the structure’s height, which blocks the Smuggler Mountain ridgeline. The other dissenter, Commissioner Jim De Francia, agreed about traffic concerns.

Commissioner John Whipple praised the proposal, calling it the largest public-amenity component he’s ever seen. He asked if the city can’t buy into affordable lodging at the Main Street site, then where can it. Commissioner Patrick Sagal said a lot of the negativity that has surrounded the project is based on misunderstanding.

The proposal did not pass without condition, as the board recommended that Hunt consider his zero setback located in the rear alleyway side of the structure.