Lift One, part two
July 14, 2009
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday gave approval for a new citizen task force to finish what another one had started last year in planning the long, drawn-out redevelopment plans for the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side.
The council voted 3-1 to convene another a citizen task force known as the Lift One COWOP (convenience and welfare of the public) to devise a new development plan along South Aspen Street and at the base of Lift 1A.
It’s unknown how long the new task force will meet but some council members who supported a further review were clear that it shouldn’t be rushed and whatever outcome is determined, a master plan will likely be decided by Aspen voters.
“I don’t think we can support this other than with a public vote,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, who earlier this year suggested letting Aspen residents vote on a development plan. “I think the public deserves a say.”
A 26-member COWOP spent six months last year, from April to October, creating and recommending a master plan for the area to the council. The master plan was ultimately withdrawn because of a lack of support by the council, and the COWOP task force was terminated.
Since then, one of the developers, Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge-Aspen, has withdrawn its 130,000-square-foot lodge proposal as a co-applicant in the master plan. The developers, David Wilhelm, Jim Chaffin and Jim Light, will likely file a separate application to build a 130,000-square-foot lodge at the base of Lift 1A.
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Left standing are Centurion Partners – which is proposing a 160,000-square-foot hotel and residence property on the west side of South Aspen Street – as well as the Aspen Skiing Co. and the city of Aspen, who also own property in the 2.5-acre area known as the Lift One Neighborhood.
Last year’s master planning process was considered fast tracked, upon the request of John Sarpa, principal of Centurion Partners, which has been in the approval process for the past six years.
But because of a deadline imposed on the former COWOP group by the developers, the task force didn’t have enough time to address the scale and mass of Centurion’s Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposal.
Most of the public outcry against the project was that it was too big – one of the deciding factors in not getting a majority vote on council. In response, Sarpa has been meeting with critics in recent months and has presented a scaled-down development proposal.
Sarpa proposed that the new task force focus on the hotel’s mass and scale over four or five meetings, and then make a recommendation to council by September. A decision by council would be made soon after.
“There have been thousands of hours of input so we are not starting over and our learning curve is not that high … we thought it was a reasonable request given what we’ve been doing,” he said. “These are difficult times for all of us … we have to come to you for help. This is one last effort to address it, it’s that simple.”
The council agreed to the re-initiating of the COWOP process with no timeline restrictions.
Sarpa said he acknowledges that a public vote is possible but it also presents uncertainty. If the new COWOP can recommend a smaller hotel, Sarpa said he hopes there will be more community buy-in.
Last year’s task force had recommended a plan that included a host of community amenities like a surface chairlift at Dean Street, a ski museum, public ski lockers and a new 1A chairlift as part of the combined proposal – much of which was going to be paid for by the Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge.
Ireland said the Lodge at Aspen Mountain’s mass and scale isn’t the only major issue outstanding. There are also complexities of how the lodge would relate to a potential development across the street, as well as guaranteed financial mechanisms to ensure the projects are completed.
“I’m not going to do Base Village here,” Ireland said, referring to Related WestPac’s unfinished development in Snowmass Village.
Councilman Torre voted against a new COWOP, saying it doesn’t meet the eligibility requirements and is driven by the developers’ goal to build a hotel.
Councilman Dwayne Romero said he’s not ready to throw in the towel yet, and that side of town needs to be revitalized with hotel rooms.
As an alternative to the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, Centurion Partners has approval stemming from a 2003 council decision to build 14 townhomes and 17 affordable-housing units on the west side of South Aspen Street, adjacent to Lift 1A and where the Mine Dump Apartments used to be.
Andrew Kole, who was a member of the original COWOP, said the council has to carefully weigh the options in front of it, and consider what’s in the best interest of the community in the long run.
“Financially, this project is kind of teetering,” he said. “If you want a hotel, you have to move forward. If you want condos, then we spent a lot of time doing nothing.
“After all this time … this is fish or cut bait …”