Aspen Skiing Co.’s Pandora’s expansion plan depends on rezoning approval |

Aspen Skiing Co.’s Pandora’s expansion plan depends on rezoning approval

The top terminal of the proposed Pandora chairlift would be on Richmond Ridge, south of the top terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola.
Aspen Times file

The Pitkin County commissioners’ anticipated vote Wednesday on Aspen Mountain’s future probably won’t come down to how many trees will be cleared to expand into the Pandora’s terrain or how many events would be hosted at a new and improved Ruthie’s restaurant.

The vote will likely hinge on the drier and more technical issue of rezoning.

Aspen Skiing Co. asked the county to rezone 132 acres of land currently zoned Rural and Remote to Ski-Recreation and another 35 acres that is zoned Agriculture Residential 10 acres to Ski-Rec.

Skeptics have claimed during earlier commissioner hearings that the request is an upzoning and spot zoning that benefits one landowner.

Skico officials pushed back on the claim at an Aug. 21 hearing.

“We don’t think we’re changing the character of the area at all,” said David Corbin, Skico vice president of planning and development.

Rural and Remote Zoning is Pitkin County’s signature legislation to restrict backcountry development. It was approved 25 years ago to limit backcountry development to 1,000-square-foot cabins.

The AR-10 zone allows one house per 10 acres, with fewer restrictions than Rural and Remote.

Corbin told the commissioners that designating skiing as the primary use on land is as legitimate of a way to preserve open space as Rural and Remote zoning.

“Ski terrain essentially functions as open space,” Corbin said.

By Skico’s reckoning, rezoning to Ski-Rec would “extinguish” about 3,700 square feet of possible residential development in the current Rural and Remote Zone and another 20,125 square feet of development in the current AR-10 zone. That is roughly equivalent to seven dwelling units.

Skico put in writing that it wouldn’t pursue residential development on the land in question.

“ASC has agreed to rezoning conditions which would eliminate cabins, residential development and other impactful buildings in the area rezoned, preserving rural character,” Skico wrote in documents submitted to Pitkin County prior to the Aug. 21 meeting.

Skico needs the zoning change for its proposed expansion into the Pandora’s terrain, on the upper east end of Aspen Mountain. Skico wants to develop tree skiing and traditional open trails on about 180 acres. The new terrain would be served by a high-speed detachable quad chairlift. The lift also would allow the extension of existing trails such as Walsh’s, Kristi and Hyrup’s.

Pandora’s has experienced a significant increase in the number of skiers and snowboarders in recent decades even though it’s not part of the ski area’s operational boundary.

“That use has been ramping up,” Corbin said. “In the past 20 years, Pandora’s terrain has become de facto ski area.”

As for the claim that the rezoning request is spot zoning, Skico responded that spot zoning usually benefits only one landowner to the detriment of public goals and the general public. But rezoning the Pandora’s terrain to Ski-Rec will enhance public recreation, Skico wrote to the county, and the new ski terrain and resort infrastructure “benefit local residents and the broader public participating in the recreational use of the area, while supporting the local resort economy.”

The county commissioners are scheduled to renew their discussions of Skico’s proposal at a meeting that begins at 11 a.m. A handful of other items on the agenda will be discussed before the Aspen Mountain Master Plan takes center stage. The meeting is at the commissioners’ meeting room adjacent to the courthouse.