Pitkin County weighs if price is right for historic preservation of Highland Bavarian Lodge | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County weighs if price is right for historic preservation of Highland Bavarian Lodge

Landowner, some commissioners frustrated by negotiations

The Highland Bavarian Lodge property includes a pond fed by water from the Hope Mine.
Anna Stonehouse / Aspen Times archive

The price to preserve a keystone piece of Aspen’s skiing history might be too steep for the property owner and some Pitkin County commissioners.

County officials and Meredith Loring have tried in multiple meetings this year to craft an agreement for development on the Highland Ranch near the confluence of Castle and Conundrum creeks southwest of Aspen. Loring expressed frustration last week at the slow-moving process that requires her to continue paying a small army of consultants. Meanwhile, some of the county commissioners asked if the public is giving too much in return for historic preservation.

At stake is the fate of the Highland Bavarian Lodge and adjoining bunkhouse.

“This is likely the first ski lodge in the state that’s been documented,” Sara Adams, a land use and historic planning consultant for the property owner, said at Wednesday’s Pitkin County commissioners meeting.

“You have the property where it all started,” she later added. “That’s amazing.”

The Highland Bavarian Lodge was built in late 1936 and opened in time to host Christmas guests. Ski trails were cut along the valley floor and hardier guests could attach skins to their skis and ascend to Richmond Ridge. The owners’ grandiose plans for skiing in Castle Creek Valley lost momentum during World War II.

Pitkin County historic preservation officer Suzannah Reid agreed that the property is part of a very small number of facilities that represent “our early skiing history.”

“I think anything we can do to preserve our skiing history is important,” Reid said.

The Highland Bavarian Lodge sits on more than 80 acres of land near the confluence of Castle and Conundrum creeks.
Anna Stonehouse / Aspen Times archives

The 81.6-acre Highland Ranch is owned by Namuranch LLC, which is controlled by Loring and her husband, Sami Inkinen. Although Pitkin County is well-known for its complex and extensive land use regulations, there is no historic preservation requirement. Loring and Inkinen could tear down the historic ski lodge. Loring acknowledged that is what she was initially thinking when she bought the property, but she got behind preservation once she explored the history.

Pitkin County offers various incentives, such as more development square footage, to encourage preservation of historic structures.

“If we really wanted to preserve this place as a museum, the county should have bought it.” — commissioner Francie Jacober

Aspen land use planner Glenn Horn, representing the property owners, said they believe the preservation and development plan “balances public and private interests.”

Here’s how the ledger would shake out: Loring and Inkinen would place the lodge and bunkhouse on the historic register. In return they would get a density bonus for a second free-market residence of 5,750 square feet on the property; 7,500 square feet of additional floor area for development on what’s known as the Mesa Lot on the property; and a 10-year vested rights period.

The massive original fireplace in the Highland Bavarian Lodge separates a sitting room and the dining room.
Anna Stonehouse / Aspen Times archive

Pitkin County and the public would receive removal of two nonhistoric additions to the lodge; a documentary film for the Aspen Historical Society that covers the lodge’s place in Aspen’s ski history; an interpretative sign about the site on Castle Creek Road; and a conservation easement on another developable lot along Castle Creek Road. The owners would give up millions of dollars from a potential sale of the home lot.

All told, a conservation easement would be placed on 49 acres, or 60%, of the ranch.

“I think it’s a pretty big win for the county, the way I see it,” Loring told the commissioners.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury countered that the extra development seemed like a “high price” for a promise not to tear down buildings. She acknowledged that Highland Ranch is a “special place” but questioned the benefit to the public as the equation stands.

Commissioner Steve Child said that while the part of the property known as the Castle Creek lot would be sterilized under the proposal, the development would be transferred to the Mesa Lot rather than extinguished. The transfer would allow a home of up to 13,250 square feet on the Mesa Lot.

Mayor Willoughby (center, front row) and family in front of Highland Bavarian Lodge with its Bavarian figures on the trim.
Courtesy the Willoughby Collection

A specific sticking point for some commissioners was a proposal to relocate a driveway through a meadow between Castle Creek Road and the lodge.

“I can’t swing that driveway,” commissioner Patti Clapper said. “It just destroys the whole historic (aspect) of that property.”

The county commissioners also wanted the driveway to be gravel rather than paved.

“Paved roads look like subdivisions and fancy stuff,” said commissioner Greg Poschman, noting the site is rural.

Loring said they needed to relocate the driveway and parking to create a yard with privacy from Castle Creek Road. She agreed to do whatever the county asked regarding the driveway material.

Commissioner Francie Jacober gave Loring credit for the concessions.

“If we really wanted to preserve this place as a museum, the county should have bought it,” Jacober said. “I think we have to be reasonable with what we ask of private property owners.”

No decision was reached Wednesday, in large part because the county needs to make sure the Aspen Fire Department signs off on certain aspects of the plan. Loring reluctantly agreed to marshal her consultants for another commissioner meeting on June 8.



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