Public critiques Sunlight expansion plan | AspenTimes.com

Public critiques Sunlight expansion plan

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Garfield County planners should get their first chance to review a proposed major expansion of Sunlight Mountain Resort next month, after the resort’s plans underwent another round of public scrutiny Tuesday night.

Participants in a public meeting grilled resort officials on everything from traffic to environmental impacts during the last of three open houses the resort held as it prepares to make a formal application to the county.

Sunlight is planning 750 units of residences, condos and hotel rooms, 50 employee housing units, new lifts and other on-mountain upgrades, a new base lodge and other improvements. It expects to submit its proposal to the county in early September. Following a review this year by county planning staff, hearings could take place early next year in front of the county Planning and Zoning Commission and then the Board of County Commissioners.

Resort officials looking for public feedback received no shortage of it Tuesday night. They spent most of the two-hour meeting responding to dozens of questions and suggestions.

Several concerned traffic on Four Mile Road, which one questioner worried “is going to become a freeway.” Sunlight is projecting that its proposal would add 4,500 vehicles per day to the 2,000 per day now using the road below the resort. Other development along the corridor could push the total number to 8,000 vehicles a day over the next 20 years.

However, that’s still well below the county’s stated capacity for the road, which is 12,000 vehicles, resort officials say.

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That’s how many vehicles now travel Brush Creek Road to Snowmass Village. Brush Creek is a two-lane road, as is Four Mile Road.

Sunlight is proposing to pave Four Mile Road with asphalt from the “Dead Man’s Curve” area to the resort. The road is paved with chip and seal now. The resort also is proposing adding a 3-foot paved shoulder on each side of the road to accommodate bike traffic.

Sunlight is talking to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority about possibly providing bus service between the resort and Glenwood Springs, with some stops along the way.

Sunlight also hopes to use the Four Mile Road corridor to run a pipeline to pump water from the Roaring Fork River up to the resort for the development. It plans to buy wind power credits to offset the energy needed to move the water uphill.

It also is seeking an Energy Star rating that would reflect increased energy efficiency at its development, and plans to take measures such as using low-flow water fixtures in all buildings, planting native landscaping to minimize the need for irrigation, pursuing efficiencies that allow machines to make snow with less water, pushing for water conservation in hotels, and encouraging the use of energy-efficient lighting fixtures.

Austin Hadley, who teaches at Sunlight’s ski school, encouraged the resort to go further.

“I think it’s just a beginning,” he said of the resort’s plans to go green. “Seven hundred and fifty units could possibly be run on their own with solar and possibly wind up there.”

Some who attended Tuesday’s meeting voiced concern about the sheer size of Sunlight’s proposal, and what the development might do in terms of driving up the cost of skiing and snowboarding there and changing the resort’s local character and flavor.

“Please remember that a lot of your support base are all these people in Glenwood who love Sunlight so much,” said longtime Sunlight skier Fred Haberlein.

Resort general manager Tom Jankovsky promised that season passes would continue to be competitively priced for locals and that the “culture of Sunlight” would not go away. But he said the size of the proposed development brings economies of scales that will enable the resort to be able to afford necessary on-mountain improvements.

Sunlight is under contract to be sold to a Florida company, Exquisite Development, pending county approval of the development plans. Exquisite Development official Mike Dooley promised Tuesday that the resort’s pricing would remain “reasonable and modest.”

“One thing we’re certain of is that Sunlight is not Aspen, it’s not Vail. We know who Sunlight is, who it needs to be. It’s definitely not that,” he said.

Bill Hiort, who has served on the Ski Patrol at Sunlight for more than 30 years, praised the resort’s plans, saying they are necessary to keep the resort in business.

“I think something that should be kept in everybody’s mind is how would you feel if there was no Sunlight,” he said.

Dooley said he hopes redevelopment of Sunlight can begin with work on lifts and other mountain improvements starting in early 2009.