Little Nell project closer to reality |

Little Nell project closer to reality

Major redevelopment of the base of Aspen Mountain moved a little closer to reality last night.

The Aspen City Council, overcoming concerns about affordable housing and mass and height, voted 3-2 in a straw poll to support a luxury timeshare project known as the Residences at Little Nell.

The 24-unit building, if finally approved, will be built up the west side of the Little Nell run at the base of Aspen Mountain, directly across from The Little Nell hotel and the condos that are built up the east side. According to Brooke Peterson, the attorney representing the development group, the condominiums will be sold in one-eighth shares at a cost of $850,000 to $950,000 per share.

The Tipple Inn Condominiums, Tippler Nightclub, Italian Caviar Restaurant and Tipple Lodge will all be demolished to make way for the Residences.

The proposal calls for a four-story, 98,000-square-foot building with retail shopping along Dean Street, which would be redeveloped and made more pedestrian friendly, and a bar and restaurant with a big deck aimed at Aspen’s apres-ski crowd.

The project is designed to be run like a hotel, with lock-off systems that convert unused bedrooms in the condominiums into hotel rooms with separate access. The Aspen Skiing Co.’s Little Nell hotel is expected to manage the room rentals and service.

For all that to happen, Peterson, planning consultant Sunny Vann and architect Bill Poss had to convince three council members that the project was worth supporting – in spite of concerns over affordable housing, objections from neighbors and the need to rezone a small piece of property from conservation to commercial.

Only Rachel Richards indicated that she had no major problems with the project, though she did have a long list of details that had to be addressed before she could vote for conceptual approval, which is on the council’s agenda later this month.

Among the items she requested was a formal agreement that the retail space be used for retail purposes only, that the restaurant and bar remain open to the public, and that a rule be drafted to limit use of a rooftop deck immediately across from the North of Nell condominiums.

Mayor Helen Klanderud also expressed support for the project, noting at the end of the hearing that she had overcome earlier concerns about locating a significant portion of the affordable housing that’s required with the project outside the city limits. Like Richards, she was willing to allow more intensive development on the site than would normally be allowed under existing zoning rules.

But Councilman Tim Semrau struggled mightily with the idea of allowing the developer, who stands to gross more than $170 million once all the units have been sold in one-eighth fractions, to locate affordable housing three miles outside town. He was particularly worried about the precedence it would set.

In May, Peterson and Vann proposed locating nearly all of the affordable housing units across from the airport at the Aspen Business Center. But at last night’s hearing they offered to locate at least 36 of the units – mostly studios and one-bedrooms -inside the city limits. However, they still wanted the option of putting 25 two- and three-bedroom units at the business center.

“I have a hard time believing that the Airport Business Center proposal is going to make or break this project,” Semrau said.

After more than three hours, the council appeared ready to kill the project, with Richards and Klanderud in support, Semrau holding off over the affordable housing issue, and Torre and Terry Paulson indicating they would not support the current design.

Paulson wanted an entire floor removed, and Torre asked for a major redesign of the top floor. Both were concerned about the building’s height, which in most places would average 45 feet, but in one spot would stretch 53 feet from grade to roof.

But in the end, after Vann and Peterson said the project would indeed be scrapped if they didn’t at least have the option to build at the business center, Semrau relented and said he’d allow some housing there. He did, however, get them to promise to try and locate more in town if possible.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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