Developers walk away from lodge approval in Aspen’s West End
The ownership group behind the Boomerang Lodge let their land-use approvals lapse Monday, which was the deadline for them to pull their building permit with the city of Aspen.
After 13 years of trying, the lapse likely means there will not be a new hotel built on the property at the corner of West Hopkins Avenue and South Fourth Street, according to those involved in the process.
The developers had approvals from Aspen City Council dating back to 2006. They could have built a four-story, 47-room lodge at 45,000 square feet, along with free-market condos, affordable housing and an underground parking garage.
But because of economic challenges, the developers had the 27,000-square-foot parcel under contract with another group — Marshall Tycher and Eric Witmondt — principals of ME Aspen Ventures One LLC. They had proposed a new project that included a 36,000-square-foot building comprising of free-market condos, rental suites and lodge units.
But Aspen Ventures One withdrew the proposal in January, saying through their land-use consultant that it wouldn’t pencil out with the changes the city was requesting. They have subsequently walked away from the pending sale.
Aspen attorney Michael Hoffman, who represents the owners — Steve Stunda, the local representative behind FSP ABR LLC, and his partners at Baltimore-based Alex Brown Realty — said it’s too bad some sort of lodge couldn’t happen on the property.
“Obviously it’s not going to be used as a hotel, which is very sad,” he said. “It’s disappointing that the Witmondt plan didn’t get traction with the city.”
He added that the reality of building a successful hotel or lodge in Aspen’s economic climate is difficult.
“There’s no hotel plan that is viable,” Hoffman said.
Whatever is built there will still require approval by City Council. The property is zoned residential, with a lodge preservation overlay, which allows for other uses like free-market, multi-family and affordable housing, according to Jennifer Phelan, the city’s deputy planning director.
A big obstacle for developers is that the eastern third of the property with the original lodge has a historic designation on it, so the building must remain there. That leaves about 18,000 square feet that can be developed.
In order to maximize profit, the lots could be subdivided for single-family homes, which would require affordable housing.
Phelan said it’s likely that whomever develops the property will look for its highest return rate, and a lodge may not be it.
“The question is, what’s the potential for residential development?” she said, adding potential developers have inquired about the property to the community development department. “There’s been a little interest. We’ve fielded some calls.”
Stunda told The Aspen Times in January that the building permit alone for the lodge was going to cost $850,000, estimating that it would be a $45 million project.
Having acquired the structure in 2005 from Charles Paterson, who built the 1950s-era lodge, along with an adjacent property, Stunda and his partners were against some serious hurdles, not the least of which was buying at the peak of the market. They paid $7.5 million for the Boomerang parcel.
A year later, the group demolished part of the lodge to make way for the 2006 development. Financing dried up as they muddled through government red tape, then the recession hit and a different proposal was introduced: an all-affordable-housing project. But the neighbors opposed it, a lawsuit was levied and the proposal died. So did several iterations of lodges.
When Witmondt pulled its application and the reality set in that the property would likely be home to a residential development, City Council members expressed disappointment.
“Besides the Boomerang site and Lift 1A, which is playing out, I don’t know where a lodge of 20 or 30 rooms would go,” Councilman Adam Frisch said in January. “I’m still of the belief that this property is one of the last places for a lodge in town.”
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.