Lodge at Aspen Mtn. gets another chance
August 28, 2007
ASPEN – The controversial hotel proposal at the base of Aspen Mountain is back on.
The Aspen City Council agreed on Monday to review a condensed version of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, which was shot down earlier this month partially because it was too large.
In response, developer John Sarpa has reduced the hotel by 24,000 square feet and eliminated one of the project’s most expensive aspects ” snowmelting on South Aspen Street.
Sarpa, a principal for Centurion Partners, on Monday briefly presented the new plan and was granted his request that the City Council review ” and possibly approve ” the development proposal on Sept. 24.
“It’s not fully thought out,” said Sarpa, who submitted changes to the project late last week. Those changes were prompted after Sarpa and his partners absorbed the comments made by City Council members when they shot the proposal down 3-2 on Aug. 13.
The majority of the City Council preferred allowing Centurion to build 14 townhomes and 17 affordable-housing units on 2.4 acres where the Mine Dump apartments sat for years on South Aspen Street. Centurion already has approval for the townhomes from a previous vote by a different council.
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Eliminating the snowmelt system made it economically feasible to do away with the project’s four whole-ownership units, which were 3,600 square feet each. However, four fractional units have been added to the original 21. The residential component has been reduced by 7,181 square feet, and the largest units have gone from about 3,600 square feet to about 2,800 square feet.
The 80 hotel rooms have been shaved down to 71, and their size has been reduced from 527 square feet to 520 square feet. The number of suites has been reduced from 24 to 10, and the standard hotel rooms have been increased from 56 to 61. The overall reduction of hotel rooms is 10,374 square feet.
A large portion of the hotel’s spa area has been reduced, as well as the back of the house operations, totaling nearly 6,500 square feet. Thirty-three parking spaces in the underground parking garage also have been removed.
The changes have enabled developers to remove the entire top third floor of the south building and reduce the highest point from 55 feet to 47 feet. The hotel was proposed at 175,000 square feet. Now it’s 150,936 square feet.
The size reduction also means it will take fewer employees ” now estimated to be 165, instead of the 190 people developers thought it would take to run the hotel. Sarpa estimates each hotel room will take a little more than two employees to maintain. Centurion will still provide affordable housing for 73 percent of the employees generated, or 135 people.
While the council agreed to review a new plan, some members were still critical of some aspects of it, including the number of employees the hotel will generate, its community benefits and the amount of cars it will bring into Aspen.
“I think the staffing computation is low,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, adding that Sarpa’s development team isn’t taking into account people who go on vacation and their calculations are based on people working seven days a week. “We still have a shortfall” of people being employed with no housing provided.
Ireland said he also doesn’t believe it’s a community benefit for Centurion to pay $4 million for a new high-speed quad chairlift that would be placed 200 feet farther uphill than where the current Lift 1A is.
A smaller hotel didn’t impress some opponents of it, who still believe it is too large and will contribute to the over development the community is already experiencing.
One Aspen resident was critical of Sarpa’s method for getting approval and thinks the project could have been smaller in the first place. And the fact that Sarpa said he couldn’t make the project smaller when it was requested by council, the resident suggested that developers are playing a game.
“It appears to me that it was a bluff last time and I’m glad you called it,” he told the council.
Sarpa said last week that it hadn’t occurred to him that eliminating the snowmelt system was an option since it had been the direction he was given for the past two years by previous councils and other governmental boards. Now that it’s not part of the project, the hotel can be smaller because expenses are cut dramatically in that there will be fewer parking spaces, no concrete will be used to rebuild the street, there will be less construction time and not as many affordable-housing units will be built.
Supporters of the project said Centurion Partners has done more than most developers in responding to feedback and making the project the best it can be while at the same time, making it economically feasible.
“We feel the applicant has bent over backward to respond to the council’s concerns,” said Jeanette Darnauer, speaking on behalf of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board, which has stated in the past that the hotel contributes to Aspen’s shrinking bed base.
Resident Toni Kronberg pointed out during public comment that South Aspen Street is steep and dangerous, and should be snowmelted. She suggested that the area be part of a master plan and the improvements could be paid for by developers, the Aspen Skiing Co. and possibly the government.
Some City Council members agreed and said options of who would pay for a snowmelted road should be pursued.
The review process is expected to go quickly as the City Council has scrutinized the project in depth since June. Council members pointed out they don’t want to rehash what’s already been presented by the applicant, or the project’s opponents and supporters.
“I support [reviewing the new proposal], but this isn’t going to be book eight of Harry Potter,” Ireland said. “It’s getting near a decision time.”
Sarpa and his development team will spend the next two weeks going back to the drawing board so they can come up with specifics to present to the City Council.
After four years in the review process, hundreds of thousands of dollars in changes, and the recent scrutiny the project has been under, the fortune cookie handed to Sarpa just before Monday’s meeting bears some truth: “Pray for what you want, work for what you need.”