Developers hoping to build at base of Aspen Mountain get first full court review
Aspen City Council scratched the surface Monday night on a massive land-use application that envisions a completely transformed base of Aspen Mountain’s western portal.
During their first formal review of major amendments to the Lift One Lodge, which were necessitated by accommodating a new chairlift down to Dean Street, council asked questions and voiced concerns on everything from affordable housing to the size of the two timeshare properties, their parking requirements and construction phasing.
Monday was the first reading of an ordinance that would approve changes made to Lift One Lodge, which was originally approved in 2011.
Developers Michael and Aaron Brown agreed to reconfigure their project to accommodate a new ski corridor and chairlift, which was prompted by a separate hotel proposal known as the Gorsuch Haus.
For the past 18 months, the development teams of both properties, as well as the city, the Aspen Skiing Co., the Aspen Historical Society and consultants have been coming up with a new site plan for the base of the mountain with one goal in mind: to bring the lift farther down the hill.
While only Lift One Lodge went under review for first reading Monday night, the second reading scheduled for Nov. 12 will consider Gorsuch Haus as well.
That’s because while they are separate development applications, they are integral to each other in defining a reimagined Lift 1 corridor, according to Ben Anderson, a planner with the city’s Community Development Department.
That corridor includes a 60-foot-wide swath for skiing that leads to the base terminal of a new “telemix” — a combination of gondola cars and detachable quad chairlift.
Gorsuch Haus is proposed as an 81-room, 64,000-square-foot hotel along South Aspen Street.
Changes to Lift One Lodge include 34 timeshare lodging units instead of 22, bumping the lock-off potential from 84 to 104 keys.
The Lift One Lodge buildings, which became longer and narrower to accommodate the new lift, are slightly larger than what was approved in 2011. The amendment proposes a total floor area of 107,651 square feet.
The Browns also own the Skiers Chalet Lodge and Skiers Chalet Steakhouse. They will be repurposed into a ski museum, skier services and a restaurant and bar, respectively.
The development and lift will affect city-owned property, which requires a public vote, as do the variances to the code that the lodge developments are asking for. That vote is expected in early 2019.
The original Lift One bull wheel, along with the first tower and chair, will be relocated to Willoughby Park in the same historic alignment as it has been since 1947, under the corridor plan.
Council members spent most of Monday’s review telling Community Development staff that they want more detailed information on a host of issues.
Councilman Adam Frisch said while the construction of the entire corridor will take the current Lift 1A offline for an anticipated two years, he is concerned that if financial problems arise for developers and slow the project down that there won’t be a chairlift in operation on that side of the mountain.
Frisch said he wants assurances that won’t be the case.
“One of the horror stories is if there is a lift that’s out for five years,” Frisch said.
He, along with council members Bert Myrin and Ann Mullins, also said they want story poles put in the corridor to show how tall the buildings would be.
Mullins said she has had some inquiry from citizens about why the Skiers Chalet buildings are being moved down the hill. She also wants more information on how much affordable housing will have to be mitigated as result of the development.
Myrin said he is concerned there is not enough affordable housing in the proposal and wants to know why no mitigation is required for the ski museum, which is being considered an essential public facility.
Under current code, city staff estimates that the Lift One Lodge proposal would generate 162 full-time employees and developers would be required to mitigate for nearly 62 of them at mid- to high-income categories.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein said since the underground parking for Lift One Lodge has to be done first in construction sequencing, he wants that locked in so the project isn’t held hostage.
“I don’t want to see 10 years of vesting and nothing gets done,” he said.
Mayor Steve Skadron said his concerns are the massing and scale of the buildings and protecting the viewplane from the Wheeler Opera House up the mountain.
He also wants more information as to why dormitory-style housing in the Skiers Chalet Steakhouse building has been replaced with a restaurant and bar.
Under the corridor plan, Dean Street becomes one-way from west to east with a pullout adjacent to Willoughby Park, near the skier services and ski museum and the base of the telemix.
Neighbors to the project on Gilbert Street have raised objection to the redesign of the street, which also is a concern of Skadron’s. In the proposed amendment, the street goes a short distance to the Lift One Lodge and ends as a cul-de-sac.
“A great priority to this council is a clear accounting of the benefits to (the public),” he said.
City staff will provide a more thorough evaluation of the proposed changes to the project at meetings scheduled for Nov. 12 and Nov. 26, and into December if needed.
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