Mark Hunt’s Base1 proposal continued to February at Aspen City Council
The Aspen Times
Discussing the project until nearly 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Aspen City Council listed its concerns about developer Mark Hunt’s Cooper Avenue lodge proposal and continued the meeting to Feb. 9.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she would like to see Hunt’s concept work, but it presents various challenges. A lack of parking, architectural design, noise control on the rooftop deck and light pollution were among her concerns. She also said she would not support Hunt’s request that the city waive affordable-housing mitigation requirements for 1.97 full-time employees.
The proposal would replace the current structure, which is home to Johnny McGuire’s deli and other businesses, with a 37.5-foot-tall, 44-room lodge. It would be within the commercial-lodge district’s 40-foot height limit, while also just within code at 17,000 square feet. However, Hunt is requesting that the city waive the requirement to provide 25 off-street parking spaces and allow a height variance from 39 feet to 41 feet to provide bathrooms. Hunt also is asking the city to waive about $40,000 in impact fee waivers.
Hunt said the lodge is designed to be affordable, social and communal, with 170-square-foot rooms at $150 to $200 per night. He argued that such a product justifies the requests.
“Affordable lodging is very difficult to build economically,” Hunt said. “I really do believe that I’m giving something back. The reality is that if we don’t view this as something that we want, and we don’t view this as making a dent in trying to provide affordable lodging … I don’t want to build it. There are better things that I can do with these properties.”
Mayor Steve Skadron compared Hunt’s proposal to the Limelight Hotel, which he described as an attempt at similarly priced lodging that ultimately failed. He suggested any potential approval for Base1 would be subject to a condition that the hotel remain affordable.
“What we’re hearing from the public, the Limelight would not pass today because the Limelight asked for variances that I would not agree to,” Skadron said. “It was not unlike this hearing. It’s exactly the same story.”
The mayor also expressed concern about the modern look of Hunt’s lodge as well as parking access. Hunt is seeking a potential agreement with the city for about 25 to 50 spaces between the Rio Grande Parking Garage and the Benedict Commons.
Councilman Dwayne Romero, who voted “no” on the proposal at first reading, said he wants Hunt to return with a concrete plan on parking rather than a “trust me” pledge.
Councilman Adam Frisch noted the importance in providing diverse lodging options in Aspen, and though he pointed out concerns over the modern design of the lodge, he said he hopes the hurdles that the council laid out will not prevent Hunt from returning with solutions in February. He disagreed with Skadron on the affordable condition, saying the size of the rooms will dictate the price, but he did acknowledge concern over parking.
“The time that you’re going to be pinched is the time the community is going to be pinched,” Frisch said. “That’s the concern, whether it’s July, those first few weeks in August and the holidays and stuff. I don’t have a problem with off-site parking as long as it’s something that can work all the time.”
The council briefly discussed Hunt’s other lodge proposal Base2, a 40-room concept the developer has put on hold until March. Hunt has said his decision to pursue Base2, which would more than double the total floor area of the structure at the Conoco gas station, will depend heavily on the fate of Base1.
In other business
The city will hire Denver-based Colorado Independent Consultants Network as the third party that will audit Aspen’s financial systems in the wake of a parking scam that cost the city between $600,000 and $800,000 since 2010.
The council agreed to the contract Monday, with the cost estimated at $50,000. Officials expect the report to be completed by Feb. 28.
Colorado Independent Consultants Network has conducted audits for Adams County, Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, the state of Colorado, Denver International Airport, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and Denver Water. The city received two other bids for audit services, one priced at $35,000 and one at $115,000.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”