Little Nell timeshare project hits
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen City Councilman Tim Semrau wasn’t buying it last night when representatives pitching a new timeshare project at the base of Aspen Mountain said the only place they could afford to build affordable housing was out near the airport.
Semrau made a quick calculation and found that the 24-unit Residences at Little Nell would bring the developer approximately $200 million in gross receipts.
As attorney Brook Peterson and planning consultant Sunny Vann tried to explain the logic behind their request to locate approximately 53 bedrooms of affordable housing at the Aspen Business Center, Semrau interrupted with a question: “What’s that gonna cost you – $6 million?”
He then pointed out that if the developers simply wanted to buy their way out of the affordable housing requirement, it would require a $10 million cash-in-lieu payment.
If a scorecard was being kept last night in council chambers, it would indicate the developers of the Residences of Little Nell won one, lost one and tied one in their effort to redevelop some of the long-neglected properties at the bottom of Little Nell.
For all intents and purposes, they won a preliminary OK from the council on the question of mass and scale. All of the council members said they liked the project and were comfortable with the current design.
As planned, the 24 timeshare units would be up to 3,500 square feet. They would be sold off in 1/8th shares for $850,000 to $950,000 per share, according to Peterson. The 98,000-square-foot building would also include eight lodge rooms rented on a nightly basis throughout the year, one free-market condominium and eight deed-restricted studios as part of the affordable housing mitigation.
Council members were particularly pleased with the idea that many of the units could be broken up into smaller units and rented like hotel rooms. The developers are currently negotiating a management contract with the Aspen Skiing Co.
But council members asked Peterson and Vann to see if they could make it a little shorter at the north end, where it bumps up against Dean Street across from the North of Nell building. The council was concerned with the canyon effect that would result with two tall buildings on the street.
The developers clearly lost their bid to locate the majority of their affordable housing units near the airport.
Peterson and Vann said they had been “racking their brains” about how to comply with the affordable housing mitigation requirement in the city’s land-use code. Vann at one point said that if they were forced to buy enough land in town to build all the affordable housing they need to build, it would kill the project.
“If we allow this mitigation to go to the ABC, we won’t see another unit of mitigation housing built in town,” Semrau said.
The council strongly suggested that Peterson and Vann see if there wasn’t some way to locate more of their affordable housing within walking distance of the project. Some suggestions included converting free-market condominiums or pricey resident-occupied affordable housing units, possibly the 21 RO units planned for the Obermeyer development, into less expensive “category” units.
The tie for the Residences at Little Nell came in the public comment portion of the hearing.
About half who spoke up were in favor of the project, suggesting that it was essential in any revitalization of Aspen’s relative moribund economy.
“We need beds,” said Howard Ross. “We need more people in this town or it will cease to exist as a town for the working person.”
Ralph Melville, owner of the Mountain Chalet, said he thought the Residences fit in with the city’s desire for more tourist-oriented development in town. As for the loss of view that some condominium owners at the North of Nell would experience, Melville noted that it was something they could “live through,” as did he and his guests.
Attorney Lenny Oates, representing some North of Nell condo owners pointed out, however, that the Residences developers had yet to meet all the requirements under the city code that would allow zoning restrictions to be lifted for the project.
And Debbie Falender suggested the 2,500- to 3,500-square-foot timeshare units might be reduced to lower the impact of the project on neighboring properties like hers on Galena Street.
“That, in my history, is a large home. I could live there and store all my stuff,” she said.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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