Aspen Skiing Co. to ask state board for variance for new Lift One gondola, chairlift

Aspen Skiing Co. this week will submit a variance request to the Colorado Tramway Board for the new Lift One chairlift and gondola, according to company officials.

The request is to get a variance from the state’s requirement to have a 35-foot clear airspace around the lift.

The new telemix lift is part of the Lift One development project that voters approved in March 2019 and includes 320,000 square feet of lodge and commercial space at the western base of Aspen Mountain.

Portions of the Lift One Lodge, a 107,000-square-foot timeshare project, and the Gorsuch Haus, a 64,000-square-foot luxury hotel, will be located within 15 or 20 feet of the new lift so a variance from the tramway board is necessary.

Victor Gerdin, planner for Skico, said it’s routine for ski areas to receive variances, noting that they have been granted for lifts at Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain.

“It’s an ordinary process to go through,” he said.

The tramway board wants to see details of the developments and understand where certain elements of the buildings are located, with fire protection and suppression in mind.

“They want to be able to manage what’s in that airspace,” Gerdin said. “They will weigh all those mitigation criteria.”

The tramway board’s technical committee will review the request at its June 18 meeting and then forward a recommendation to the state board for consideration at its July 8 meeting.

The variance is necessary as developers move to final design and review of their land-use applications by the city’s Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions.

“As we eventually go to (planning and zoning), which we hope is this winter, that is one of the things you want in hand,” said Jim DeFrancia, principal of Lowe Enterprises and a partner with the Gorsuch team.

All of the development partners, which include the city of Aspen, Skico, Lift One developers Michael and Aaron Brown and Gorsuch Haus developers Bryan Peterson and Jeff Gorsuch, have understood since the plan was selected that the ski lift would need a variance.

And with some guidance from engineers and Rich Burkley, Skico’s vice president of operations, who is a former tramway board member, developers are comfortable they will be given approval.

“We approach it with a high level of confidence,” DeFrancia said.

David Corbin, Skico’s senior vice president of planning and development, said it’s one element of many in the overall plan, which is being worked on regularly with the development team.

“There’s been a lot of work going on,” he said. “At a technical level it’s going pretty well.”

The city has granted the Browns an extension until Sept. 5 to submit their final review plans for approval on the details of the project.

The Gorsuch Haus land-use application was submitted in March and has been deemed complete, according to city long-range planner Ben Anderson.

“As a general principle, I am impressed with the degree of collaboration that is happening between the stakeholders,” he wrote in an email, adding that frequent coordination meetings started back up this past winter, and have been robust this spring, in spite of the challenges presented by COVID-19. “We expect that board reviews for both projects will begin mid-late fall.”

Jen Phelan, the city’s development manager, is acting as the project manager and owner’s representative for the municipal government’s piece in the development.

She is the agent keeping the projects moving forward and together.

“My first job is to make sure everyone is communicating,” Phelan said. “There’s a lot of moving parts. … It’s pretty amazing the number of meetings and details.”

The plan got fleshed out by the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions already on a conceptual level, and then Aspen City Council referred it to city voters.

The ballot measure passed by just 26 votes.

The final approval step is going back again in front of the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions for detailed review, which focuses on minor issues like finishes and materials on buildings, landscaping and grading of the site.

The developers have five years of vesting rights from their approval to begin the project.

“It’s getting real,” Phelan said, adding that if final approval happens in winter 2021 and permits are issued after all plats and easements and other details are worked out, construction could start “I think the earliest is spring of 2022.”