Public to vote on Aspen Lift One |

Public to vote on Aspen Lift One

ASPEN ” A deadlocked Aspen City Council means the fate of a plan to build nearly 300,000 square feet of residential and commercial space at the base of Aspen Mountain will rest with Aspen voters.

The Lift One Master Plan project will be decided by Aspen residents in May.

The council vote Wednesday resulted in a 2-2 tie on the redevelopment proposal ” an estimated half-billion-dollar development project that aimed to bring life to the west side of the resort where skiing was born.

Mayor Mick Ireland and City Councilman Steve Skadron voted against the development. Council members Jackie Kasabach and Dwayne Romero voted in favor of it.

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“I think the public should break the tie,” said Ireland in his proposal to send the master plan to voters. “The community should have the final say.”

The council voted 3-1 to put Ordinance 34, which governs the master plan, on the May ballot. Kasabach dissented, saying she was appointed to the council last fall to make decisions on behalf of the electorate.

It was expected that Aspen residents would ultimately be the final deciders on the master plan; the question was whether it would be initiated by a small group of critics who planned to force it to a referendum, or presented as a ballot measure by the council. The small group of residents wouldn’t have had enough time to get it on the May ballot, and a special election in July would have been likely, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch.

Ireland said it’s more effective for the council to float the ordinance past voters than to let a citizen-led initiative muddy the plan with convoluted language and possible false pretenses.

There were some residents Wednesday night who urged the council to put the master plan to a public vote, while others said it’s the job of elected leaders to make difficult decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Central to the development are two large properties ” the Lodge at Aspen Mountain and the Lift One Lodge.

The Lodge at Aspen Mountain is proposed by Centurion Partners and represented by John Sarpa. It includes a 175,000-square-foot hotel and ownership lodge on the west side of South Aspen Street, where the Mine Dump apartments used to be.

There would be 101 rentals, five free-market condos and 5,000 square feet of commercial space.

The Sarpa group’s previous proposal to develop a hotel and ownership property was rejected in the fall of 2007 by a previous council. Instead of building 17 townhomes, for which they have approval, Sarpa and his partners decided to continue in the planning process and find another way to make the hotel development palatable for the community.

He said Wednesday that the council’s decision made him “feel sick in his gut.”

“We took a huge gamble,” he told the council. “We put our confidence, faith and trust in the process and it didn’t work … we’re right back where we started.”

The Lift One Lodge is proposed by developers David Wilhelm, Jim Chaffin and Jim Light under the auspices of Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge Aspen LLC and represented by Bob Daniel. It would be 130,000 square feet and built below Lift 1A, in part where the Holland House once operated. It includes 75 lodge units, 26 fractional condos, five free-market units and 18,000 square feet of commercial space.

Daniel expressed sadness that the master plan couldn’t get the blessing of the council, and said he has heard loud and clear what Ireland believes his duty as an elected official.

“We respect the clarity of your position,” he said.

The master plan was created and recommended to the council by a 27-member citizen task force. They were charged with creating a comprehensive development plan for Aspen Mountain’s western base area, at the top of South Aspen Street. From April to September, they collectively logged more than 2,000 hours toward the effort.

The result is a host of community benefits that wouldn’t have been offered by developers if their projects were considered individually.

For example, the defunct Skiers Chalet Steak House building, also owned by Roaring Fork Mountain Lodge-Aspen LLC, would contain a brew pub, a mid-priced restaurant and public ski lockers on the ground floor, and dormitory affordable housing rooms on its second and third floors.

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