No consensus on Aspen Club |

No consensus on Aspen Club

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesThe Aspen City Council postponed making a decision on the Aspen Club plan on Monday and will again take up the subject at its May 24 meeting. The club's main building is visible in the foreground, with its tennis bubble behind it.

ASPEN – It was two steps forward and one step back for the Aspen Club, whose representatives went before Aspen City Council on Monday night seeking final approval for an expanded club and timeshare condo development east of town.

But after more than an hour of public comment both for and against the project, and nearly three hours of debate, the council postponed making a decision and will again take up the subject at its May 24 meeting.

Aspen Club owner Michael Fox is asking for the property at the end of Ute Avenue to be rezoned from residential to accommodate 20 timeshare condos and a 55,000-square-foot expansion for a healthy living retreat center called Aspen Club Living. The timeshare units would be comprised of 14 townhomes and six condos, as well as 12 affordable-housing units.

The sticking points in this round of discussion – after three years in government review, Monday’s meeting marked the proposal’s sixth time before City Council since January – remained parking and traffic mitigation, scale and mass of the development, continuity of ownership, and the developer’s commitment to the community by means of reinvestment in the Club.

The council was satisfied, however, with Fox’s responses to several other concerns raised at previous meetings. Namely, financial assurances that the project will be completed, through a performance bond and a site protection fund, as well as his agreeing to release the right to build a single-family residence on the land if the plan is approved. Fox also drafted a plan to ensure the Aspen Club remains accessible to local residents, but council members ultimately decided that was not necessary for them to give the project the go-ahead.

With regard to the remaining concerns, it appears the council is somewhat divided. Councilmen Derek Johnson and Dwayne Romero were not overly troubled by the mass and scale of the project; Mayor Mick Ireland felt strongly that it was too big. Councilman Steve Skadron had no problem with the proposed parking and traffic mitigation plan; Johnson and Romero said that with minor tweaks, they could accept it; Ireland had serious concerns about the issue and was not appeased with the proposed mitigation.

Discussion and dissent also centered around “Section 26,” a part of the proposed ordinance essentially guaranteeing that Fox would remain the club’s manager throughout the development process.

“I think this is overreaching from the government sector to the private sector,” Romero said. “It’s not personal, Michael, but we should be looking at this for its strengths and merits as a land-use application, not on the strengths and merits of the applicant. I’m not sure it’s a precedent we want to set.”

Johnson agreed.

“I worry about tying Michael so closely to the approval of this,” he said, outlining in jest a few scenarios by which Fox would not or could not be at the helm. “What if he was hit by the cross-town shuttle, makes poor decisions, the bank takes over …”

This “continuity of ownership” was raised as a concern because of the number of recent developments that have changed hands midway through, leading to new requests of council, stalled construction and other complications. It is an idea new to the city, and one wrought with complexities. However, Ireland was firm in his stance that it must be addressed before he could approve Fox’s request, though he could not define how to adjust the current proposal so it sat comfortably with his fellow council members.

The final sticking point, though others may arise as discussions continue later this month, is about the Aspen Club’s proposed $5 million reinvestment into the facility. All four council members (Torre has been recused) felt that the list submitted was too broad; they asked for more specific ideas about things like programming, which would in turn tell more about the club’s ongoing commitment to the community. Fox said he could easily address this issue at the next meeting.

“We are committed to Aspen,” he said. “We believe in this project and what we can do here.”