Aspen City Council candidates deliver their Lift One corridor positions
January 31, 2019
The Aspen Times has asked candidates for Aspen City Council to answer five questions about who they are and what their positions are on various issues facing the community.
We are publishing one question and their answers from the candidates each day this week, Monday through today.
Today is the fifth question about the potential of a redeveloped base of Aspen Mountain that the public will vote on March 5.
Question 5: Do you support $4.36 million of taxpayer money being paid to developers behind the Lift One corridor plan, which has been described as a public-private partnership to redevelop the base of Aspen Mountain's west side?
I support the Lift One corridor proposal. Mainly because it will deliver lodging that has been a goal of the community for a very long time.
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I do believe there is a public benefit provided, so I support the city contribution. The community wants the lift and we want it lowered to Dean Street. There is a huge community benefit to a new lift. What I find even more exciting than the lift is the open space enhancements to Willoughby Park, Lift One Park and Dolinsek Gardens that will be year-round public amenities.
There are also pedestrian and bike enhancements to Dean Street and 50 public parking spaces that will be located in the parking garage.
We are also getting three historic assets restored and reactivated in the Skiers Chalet Lodge, the Skiers Chalet Steakhouse and the historic Lift 1.
This project will also fulfill the agreement with the Aspen Historical Society for a ski museum. These are all wonderful aspects that illustrate the public/private benefit of the project.
We also need to remember that there will be significant revenue returned to the city via the real estate transfer tax to the affordable-housing fund and the Wheeler when the free-market units are sold and resold for the life of the property. These projects will add vitality and a much-needed public amenity to this area of town.
I voted no at council. It was a colossal failure of council to send this to the voters with a $4.36 million cash payment as well as a discretionary reduction of affordable housing for 47.29 employees. Staff estimated this reduction as an additional $11.29 million cost shifted from the developers to the community.
The developers attempt to justify the $4.36 million as a payment from the community to refurbish the Skiers Chalet into a museum. However, the museum retrofit is not a new obligation. The museum retrofit was an obligation the Browns purchased with the original 2011 approvals for Lift One Lodge.
I suggested putting a separate question on the ballot independent of the land-use approval question asking voters whether they support giving $4.36 million to the developers.
Simple enough: ask the voters one question approving the land use and ask a separate, second question approving the cash payment.
Fearful the voters would reject a standalone cash payment question and in true "shoot-the-puppy" fashion, council insisted on one ballot question so voters would be stuck paying the cash and shorting the community on affordable housing if they wanted a new ski lift.
Vote no on the development to send it back to City Council where it can be returned to the voters without council's precedent-setting $4.36 million contribution.
If you are still not convinced to vote no, do you really think Aspen should be more crowded during peak nights? That's the only reason to build additional rooms. The rest of the year we have empty beds. If you want a new ski lift, put the $4 million directly toward a new lift and forgo converting conservation land into high-density lodging.
Aspen rightfully approaches development with trepidation as property owners and the community refurbish infrastructure and amenities.
Change is constant in life, guiding those changes to the best outcomes in a thoughtful and thorough manner is the responsibility of the City Council.
I wish they had required an independent financial analysis to vet the public contribution and allowed more time for the decision by holding a special election later in the year.
Context is important. Lodging should occur at the base of the mountain. I think of the public contribution to reinvigorate historic access and activities in the lift 1A corridor as similar to the public investment of millions of dollars for pedestrian access and safety improvement on Durant Street by Gondola Plaza.
When I first skied Aspen Mountain, it took 45 minutes and three chairlifts to reach the Sundeck.
The redevelopment of the Little Nell brought us the gondola, replacing that long, cold trip, and giving us the top-to-bottom laps we enjoy today.
While some may decry each change, Aspen has been enhanced from the redevelopment of the Aspen Institute, Country Day and Music School campus, the Music Festival Tent, the Physics Center, Rubey Park Transit Center and the library. We've replaced the old Moore pool with the Aspen Recreation Center and built first-class K-12 schools for our kids.
I want to eat in the Skiers Chalet and Steakhouse again. I want to bring back World Cup, remembering when our kids would leave school early to ride the lift with the pros during training and cheer them on during the races.
I think the Lift One Corridor plan is exciting. Perhaps not perfect, but I don't want this one-time opportunity lost. Bringing activity back to the Shadow Mountain area — where our "ski town" roots were first established, will benefit Aspen.
No. I can get to yes on 1A, and I encourage you to vote yes, but I see significant problems with the project (which are on record from Planning and Zoning meetings I chaired).
Ultimately, I believe the rejuvenation of our historic base, moving the lift down the hill and retaining the World Cup and ski culture are enough for a yes vote.
However, here is what I would have done differently:
1. I would not have sacrificed affordable housing for this project. Sacrificing housing worsens our most critical community challenge. What is the lodge for if there is no one to work in it, or patronize it?
2. I would not have put public funds into subsidizing expensive hotel rooms. Our problem is not too few tourists in town. Did anyone want more people over New Year's? Our problem is lack of diversity of tourists in town. Build an "Aspen hostel" wing and I would consider contributing funds.
I recognize that existing problems with underlying zoning and financing are how we arrived here and must be amended. What have existing elected officials done about this? Nothing.
3. The garage entrance should have been on Aspen Street despite the difficulties. Once the Dolinsek property comes to fruition, it will represent the prime concert, conference and event venue in Aspen. The Dean Street entrance forever inhibits Dean Street as an event pedestrian corridor and walkable connection to the gondola.
All that said, I will get to yes and encourage you to, as well. A no vote will elicit an immediate build of an older design of Lift One Lodge that will forever keep us from bringing the lift lower, and likely result in a few more empty multi-million dollar homes with their lights off.
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