Lodge at Aspen Mountain headed to polls?
ASPEN Developers of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain spent Tuesday strategizing their next move after the City Council shot down their proposal to build an 80-room hotel at the base of Ajax.That next move most likely will be a referendum for voters this fall, asking them to approve the facility at the base of Lift 1A. If voters approve, it would be the first hotel to come on line in 20 years – estimated for completion in 2011.The hotel would be only 15,000 square feet smaller than the St. Regis, which was built as the Ritz-Carlton in the early 1990s after voters approved a 1989 referendum.After four years of review, thousands of hours of work by the developers and city staff, and millions of dollars in changes to the proposal, the City Council rejected the development 3-2 early Tuesday morning after discussing the issue for six hours.Centurion Partners principal John Sarpa immediately requested that the council place the ordinance asking for approval of the development on the ballot this fall, which the state constitution allows. At least three members of the City Council said they’d consider it, including Mayor Mick Ireland, who voted against the project.”I will consider their request; that’s the least we could do,” Ireland said. “I’ll hear their argument.”The City Council will discuss the issue Aug. 27, the last scheduled meeting before the Sept. 7 deadline to get measures on the November ballot.If the council declines to put the development proposal in front of voters, Sarpa and his partners could initiate their own ballot measure through a petition, said City Attorney John Worcester. They would need to collect 750 signatures, which is 15 percent of the city’s registered voters in the last election.Sarpa declined to say whether he would start collecting signatures now or wait for the council to make a decision.”We are considering all of our options,” he said. “We are discussing what the appropriate discussions will be and there’s a lot of thinking and analysis before then.”If the council rejects the request to put the measure on the ballot and Sarpa doesn’t collect enough signatures before the Sept. 7 deadline, Centurion can ask for a special election, Worcester said.The other option is to build 14 townhomes and 17 affordable housing units, for which Centurion already has approval. Whether it’s 175,000 square feet of hotel or 84,000 square feet of townhomes, the 2.4-acre site is being prepared so developers can break ground in the spring. The site is on South Aspen Street, where the Mine Dump apartments currently sit.The hotel project would also include 21 fractional-ownership units; four free-market condos; 254 underground public parking spaces, 50 of which would be public; wider sidewalks on a snowmelted South Aspen Street, $4 million toward a new high-speed quad chairlift to replace lift 1A and shuttle service from the gondola to the mountain’s west side, among other offerings.Centurion also offered to deed-restrict the hotel rooms for 99 years, meaning the rooms couldn’t convert into fractional-ownership units or condos during that period.The City Council was held hostage to a certain degree on Monday when it reviewed the proposal because its members had to either vote for a massive building or townhomes that will likely become empty second homes.Ireland said he will ask Sarpa to drop the townhomes in exchange for placing the proposal on the ballot.”Then we could vote for this without being threatened with the alternative being townhomes that nobody wants,” he said. “Propose the hotel on its merits alone.”Sarpa said on Tuesday that he was not prepared to address that proposal, but is considering it.At Monday night’s public hearing, residents came out in force both in support and opposition of the project, though most people voiced their support, saying the project will inject economic vitality into town. Opponents said it’s too massive and doesn’t fit in with the community or neighborhood. Ireland voted against the project not only because it’s too large and town is at capacity, but also because there are no independent verification mechanisms to track how many employees the hotel would generate or developers’ claims on their environmental calculations that make the facility energy efficient.Councilmen Jack Johnson and J.E. DeVilbiss, who joined Ireland in voting against the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, didn’t appear to support the idea of a referendum and were vehemently against the project.Johnson took it personally and said he was insulted when Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President David Perry wrote a letter to the editor in support of the project, asking the City Council to be “courageous” in approving the hotel.Johnson added that he wants a hotel at the base of Ajax’s west side but not at the price of overdevelopment. And giving the ultimatum between townhomes and a hotel is a false choice, he said.”That is your choice to [build townhomes], not mine,” Johnson told Sarpa.DeVilbiss also appeared to make it personal after expressing his frustration in not getting straight answers on specific questions from developers and their representatives.”I have a lot of trouble with your credibility,” DeVilbiss said to Sarpa, which prompted boos and hisses from the audience. Ireland intervened, reminding everyone in the room that he is in charge. He allowed DeVilbiss to continue with his comments.”I’m running the meeting; don’t try me,” he told the public and Sarpa, who attempted to respond.DeVilbiss questioned Sarpa’s claims that the hotel couldn’t be smaller when over the years it’s been altered dramatically.”Did you tell us this is the best you could do?” DeVilbiss asked, pointing to the height of the building that had been scaled back.Sarpa took exception to the innuendo, saying he has gone back and tried to make the project better based on feedback from the community and the council.”I was listening to you and responding to you,” he said.Clearly emotions ran high. City Councilman Steve Skadron choked up when explaining his support for the project. He agreed the townhomes would generate fewer employees and would be smaller than the hotel, but ultimately, he said, a hotel is important for the rebirth of that part of town.Councilman Dwayne Romero concurred, noting the base of Aspen Mountain was the first portal for skiing in town and is the last developable area for skiing opportunities.”Dedicating this spot to 14 townhomes is not fair,” he said. “I believe this project with all of this goodwill … at the end of the day, this is a compromise.”Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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