New Krabloonik deal may have legs
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It’s a land swap deal based on hope, fear and zoning.
Dan MacEachen, owner of the Krabloonik wild-game restaurant and sled-dog tour operation in Snowmass Village, hopes a new deal will allow him to remain in business for the next 20 years.
So does the town of Snowmass Village, which values the operation as a tourist attraction.
And so do the Divide homeowners, who like the charm of Krabloonik in their neighborhood but fear another commercial use there or an employee housing project.
A veteran of seven Iditarod dog-sled races in Alaska, MacEachen has been mushing huskies up the Snowmass Creek Valley since 1974. Today, Krabloonik is home to 250 dogs and can claim to be the largest sled-dog tour operation in the United States.
Two years ago, the Snowmass Land Co. wanted to sell the land, which meant Krabloonik’s sweetheart lease would likely be canceled after the sale. So MacEachen bought the 1.7-acre parcel for $1.4 million, even though it was a stretch for the operation.
“There was no way I could even imagine I could support the mortgage,” said MacEachen earlier this year. “But I did it so I could have control over my own destiny.”
But he’s still struggling for that control.
And if he can’t reach a deal with the town, it’s likely the land on which the restaurant and dog kennel operate will be sold for a commercial use or perhaps, if the town approves a zoning change, a residential use.
But the Snowmass Village Town Council has already rejected a proposal from MacEachen to carve out a second-home lot on the site and has passed on a complicated three-way land swap with the Divide homeowners.
But a new two-way land swap put forward last week seems to make more sense to the council.
The town owns the piece of land that today serves as the Krabloonik parking lot. It’s connected to the restaurant and the dog kennel by a long flight of wooden stairs, which patrons are used to descending to a chorus of barking sled dogs.
The town has pondered alternative uses for the little-used parking lot over the years, including as a site for an employee housing project.
But Divide homeowners don’t want to see a project in the parking lot, as it sits at the front door of their neighborhood’s gate house.
And they are quick to tell the town that the only allowed zoning on the land is as a parking lot, unless the Divide agrees to another use.
But they don’t really want to see it remain as a parking lot, either.
“The Divide would prefer to have the parking somewhere it is not so visible,” said Dave Myler, an Aspen land-use attorney representing Krabloonik.
Is there a way to rearrange the ownership and zoning of the two lots to keep Krabloonik in business and make the Divide happy, without the town giving away its land?
Myler has been working for months to find a solution and has recently held a series of meetings with Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester and Councilman Bob Purvis.
Here’s the latest proposal.
MacEachen and the town swap lots.
MacEachen sells the town’s old parking lot as a homesite, with the Divide’s blessing.
He uses the money to pay off his debt and to build a new parking lot on what is now open space land near the Aspen Skiing Co.’s new vehicle maintenance facility in the Divide neighborhood.
The town leases its new land back to Krabloonik for $10 a year for 20 years, allowing the restaurant and the dog sled facility to operate with no debt payments, which keeps alive a popular recreational amenity.
After 20 years, or when the restaurant closes, the town could sell the Krabloonik site for a single-family home, but could not build employee housing there or approve another commercial use, which makes the Divide owners happy about the future of the site.
In addition, MacEachen, if he can find a way, can exercise an option to buy back the Krabloonik property from the town at fair market value. And if he can’t sell his new homesite within two years, the whole deal could be canceled.
The deal could make sense because neither the town nor Krabloonik today are able to sell their properties for what they might bring on the open market as homesites.
The town’s property is zoned for parking and is hemmed in by the Divide’s opposition to employee housing.
The Krabloonik property is zoned only for commercial use and is also hemmed in by the Divide’s desire to keep other commercial uses from moving into the neighborhood.
But after the land swap, both parties could potentially sell their new properties for single-family homes.
MacEachen would sell his parcel to keep Krabloonik going. And the town would sell its parcel only if Krabloonik fails.
The Divide homeowners are likely to bless the deal, Myler said. It satisfies them because it puts a nice home in the town’s now unsightly parking lot. And it removes the future potential commercial use of the Krabloonik land.
Last week, the council asked Myler to next bring forward a more detailed draft agreement for additional review.
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