Limelite wins OK from city | AspenTimes.com

Limelite wins OK from city

Janet Urquhart

Conceptual plans to redevelop the Limelite Lodge won Aspen City Council support Tuesday with a 4-1 vote, but members made no promises to support the project’s final application.For the Paas/Woolery family, longtime operators of the lodge, the hard-won approval came on an otherwise tough day – the Limelite’s AAA rating dropped from three stars to two after a surprise inspection. That, after a lengthy hearing Monday night, when the council panned aspects of their redevelopment plan and questioned whether the new Limelite would remain a moderately priced lodge. Others questioned the family’s integrity when the involvement of a passive financial partner in the project came to light.”I feel duly frustrated. I feel like I can’t communicate with you guys,” said Limelite owner Dale Paas.”We will build a hotel that you can come back to … our impression is that you do not believe us,” said an emotional Sue Woolery, Paas’ sister. “For everyone in the community to support us and you to not is very discouraging for us. We are losing heart.”I have not been able to think about losing our business because that will break my heart, but we are reaching that point,” Woolery added.”I think it was unjustly implied that we are irresponsible and not to be trusted,” added Margaret Paas-Orr, better known as “Grams” in a family that is now in its fourth generation of lodge operators.Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss agreed the family’s credibility was “dinged up a bit” when the involvement of financial partner Jerry Biehl was publicized, but council members assured the Limelite owners their upstanding reputation remains intact.”I don’t think anyone at this table has anything less than trust in your integrity,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said.With Tuesday’s conceptual approval, several council members called on the Limelite owners and their development team to reduce the height of the building that will contain 17 free-market condos, which will be sold to finance the redevelopment of the lodge. As it’s currently proposed, the building is about 50 feet high at the peak of a gabled roof.Council members backed off, however, on their suggestion Monday that the condos should be fractional-ownership units. No bank will finance the project with a risky fractional component, Biehl said, but the hotel will manage the condos as rental properties.Council members weren’t convinced the condos will lend themselves to the rental market, though.Only DeVilbiss voted against the project, citing the number and size of the free-market units and the height of the building.The Limelite plan also called for 128 lodge units with an average size of less than 550 square feet, which the city reasons will help keep them moderately priced. A revised plan would drop the number to 123 or 120 units, reducing the impacts of the fourth floor on neighbors. The council was split on which total was acceptable.”The whole point is to have lodge rooms,” said Councilman Jack Johnson, advocating 128 rooms.The council also dropped its push for some guarantee that the rooms would remain “moderately” priced. Room rates aren’t something the council has ever dictated, Richards noted.”I think we need to bear in mind what we can ask,” she said. “It’s like approving a grocery store and then telling them what they can charge for a gallon of milk.”Last night’s approval came with a host of conditions to be addressed when the development proposal comes back in its final form and council members made it clear the project could get a thumbs down if the plans aren’t modified.”What we approve tonight does not make it a done deal,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said.”My support of the conceptual [plan] in no way binds me to approval at final,” Councilman Torre agreed.The Limelite redevelopment would entail the replacement of a collection of lodge buildings centered at Monarch Street and Cooper Avenue. The new lodge would be built north of Monarch; the free-market condos are slated for a parcel south of Monarch.The family will seek final approval in time to begin construction as soon as the coming ski season ends next spring, according to Dale Paas. If that timeline can’t be met, the family can’t afford to make it happen, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com