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Shadow Mountain plans in the spotlight

Janet UrquhartAspen Times Staff Writer

Dismayed by the prospect of luxury homes creeping up the unspoiled lower reaches of Shadow Mountain, a group of Aspenites has banded together in the hopes of protecting the craggy peak that forms Aspen Mountain’s western flank.Several approved, but as yet unbuilt homes and a new housing development threaten what has been open land where the mountain drops precipitously down to the edge of town. The newly formed Friends of Shadow Mountain are calling attention to projects they fear may slip under the community’s radar screen.The group is collecting signatures, rallying Aspenites to speak out at upcoming hearings and seeking donations to their cause ? purchasing the properties as open space. The appeal has already generated some $800,000 in pledges, according to organizer Michael Behrendt.The lower slopes of Shadow Mountain, now a patchwork of mine tailings, summer wildflowers, trails and the old Midland Railroad right of way ? a popular trail in its own right ? should remain open space, contend the Friends of Shadow Mountain. Instead, the base of the mountain is poised for development of as many as four new single-family homes and a 15-unit project that includes four townhomes cut into the hillside above Fifth Street.”We all have aimed our homes at Aspen and Shadow Mountain. We all know the moonglow of the slopes framed by the black crags of Shadow Mountain. Would we rather see a rising necklace of monster homes? That’s what’s coming,” Behrendt wrote in a letter to the editor last week.Behrendt owns the St. Moritz Lodge at the corner of Third Street and Hyman Avenue. Shadow Mountain, aptly named for the shadow it casts across Aspen by midafternoon at this time of year, rises up directly across the street from the lodge. A point jutting out of the mountain above the lodge could become the platform for a home.”No one is motivated without motivation,” Behrendt conceded with a grin.But a campaign that sprang from the neighborhood along West Hyman and West Hopkins avenues has grown to one with a broader base of support, according to Donna Fisher, a Friends member and Main Street resident. It’s not just a NIMBY thing, she said.”The support we’re getting is from people all over town,” Fisher said. “It’s not just, don’t build something here because it’s my neighborhood.”The group has collected more than 450 signatures in support of its effort to preserve the base of the mountain and the integrity of the old railroad corridor.They have approached the city’s new Open Space Board for help and hope Pitkin County will participate, as well.”They came to us with sort of a blueprint of what’s approved or proposed for development in that area,” said Fred Pierce, chairman of the city Open Space Board. “They were concerned about it and wanted to know if we’re concerned about it.”The Friends of Shadow Mountain would like the city to make preservation of the mountain’s base an open space priority.”We have not taken that step yet,” Pierce said.A joint session of the council and the Open Space Board to discuss various potential land acquisitions is in the offing, though, said Mayor Helen Klanderud.”We’re looking at what would be important to protect over there,” she said. “Not only are there several property owners, but it’s in two different jurisdictions. Clearly we need to talk with the county on this.”@ATD Sub heds:Plenty of players@ATD body copy:The base of Shadow Mountain, between First and Seventh streets, consists of a hodgepodge of properties bisected by the boundary between the city of Aspen and unincorporated Pitkin County. The city/county line essentially follows the old Midland Railroad corridor.At one point, the city Historic Preservation Commission discussed designating the rail corridor as historic, though that was never done, according to Amy Guthrie, historic preservation officer. Some survey work was completed to determine where the Midland Trail follows the original rail line and where it deviates from the old corridor.”Parts of the Midland right of way have been obliterated by construction now,” Guthrie said.Another section of it will be compromised by the proposed Little Ajax development, contend the Friends of Shadow Mountain. They would like to see the trail eventually connect with the Castle Creek pedestrian bridge and Marolt bike trail on a route that keeps it separate from West Hopkins Avenue.Little Ajax, on a parcel owned by Aspen GK LLC, includes 11 deed-restricted units in two buildings, one behind the other, facing West Hopkins Avenue at South Fifth Street. The Midland Trail would be routed behind the affordable housing, crossing the driveway leading to the garage for a building containing four free-market units that would be constructed into the hillside, topping out about five stories above street level.The developers are Burton Kaplan and New York-based architect Peter Gluck.The project won conceptual approval from the City Council in February 2001. It has now received final approval from the city Planning and Zoning Commission and is headed for council review. Annexation of the upper piece of the property into the city is also requested.With a development application pending, the council needs to proceed cautiously in juggling open space concerns, Klanderud noted.”The City Council needs to be careful in maintaining our objectivity,” she said. “That has been part of the difficulty, too.”To the west of the Aspen GK LLC property are three parcels held by corporations. They all belong to the sole homeowner in that expanse, including the westernmost parcel once owned by Hans Gramiger, who at one time dreamed of a restaurant atop the mountain with a tram system from the base to access the scenic perch.Ultimately, the homeowner next door bought the parcel, effectively halting a Michigan developer’s proposal for 42 homes, including 33 affordable units, on about 2.5 flat acres at the base of the mountain.To the east of the property slated for Little Ajax is a flat parcel fronting West Hopkins. The land is directly across the street from the Boomerang Lodge, and it belongs to Charlie and Fonda Paterson, owners of the lodge.The city has already approved expansion of the Boomerang on the parcel, but at this point, Charlie Paterson said he has no definitive timetable in mind to proceed with the development.”It might be imminent, it might be a year away,” he said.The lodge’s plans are not the focus of the Friends of Shadow Mountain. In fact, Fonda Paterson is active with the group. The organization hopes to halt development to the south of the city/county boundary, preserving the Midland Trail and everything above it on the mountain, Behrendt explained.”If we can preserve the face here, what we have is open space instead of castles in the sky for some time to come,” he said.@ATD Sub heds:The castles@ATD body copy:Also east of the proposed Little Ajax project is a parcel still owned by Gramiger and a triangle of city-owned open space. Beyond that are the Little Cloud subdivision and the Reeder/Johnson property. Both alarm the Friends of Shadow Mountain.Lyle Reeder and Stanford Johnson acquired a parcel behind the Aspen Ice Garden in a 1985 exchange with the U.S. Forest Service, giving up 115 acres’ worth of mining claims in the Hunter Creek area and a parcel above Ashcroft.After conveying land to preserve the Midland Trail and a chunk of land near Koch Park, what remains is about a 39,000-square-foot lot and the development right for a 9,800-square-foot home, plus a garage and subgrade space for a total of 14,550 square feet.The county contends one structure can be built in the basin at the end of Second Street; Reeder believes there are two development rights on the lot ? that the square footage can be split between two houses. An appeal to the county is scheduled Feb. 26.The lot was advertised for sale last fall for $3.2 million, but Reeder said he’s willing to sell it as open space. He has talked to Behrendt and said he has named a price to the group.”I just want to sell it,” Reeder said. “I’m giving the open space group an opportunity to purchase it.”Above the Reeder/Johnson parcel are a trio of much more visible homesites, part of the four-lot Little Cloud subdivision, which predates the county’s prohibition on building on slopes that exceed 30 percent.The lowest homesite in the subdivision already contains a house. Developer Tom Lewis has the other three lots under contract with owner John Tucker.Development rights for homes of about 6,000 square feet each exist on the three lots; Lewis is trying to resolve an access dispute before he follows through with the purchase. A Feb. 12 hearing before the county is scheduled.Lewis said he envisions building a house for himself on one of the lots and either developing the other two lots and selling the houses, or simply selling the lots.”Common sense dictates I wouldn’t buy the property just to make it open space,” he said.Right now, selling it as open space is Tucker’s call, he noted.Little Cloud, which received final plat approval in 1992, is one of those developments the county probably wouldn’t approve today for a host of geologic, wildlife and visual reasons, according to County Commissioner Dorothea Farris.”I think it’s inappropriate to develop up that mountain,” she said. “In my mind, personally, that’s a subdivision that should never have been approved.”As the county reviews its TDR, or transferable development right, program this year, Farris wonders if properties like the Little Cloud lots should be eligible. Currently, the owners of backcountry parcels can sell off development rights for use in areas deemed more appropriate for development.”Maybe the backcountry that would be protected would never be developed anyway,” she said.Instead, development pressure is highest for marginal sites like the Little Cloud lots, where geologic hazards and other concerns exist, but their proximity to Aspen make them attractive anyway.Behrendt, mindful that the owners of edge-of-Aspen parcels aren’t going to conserve them as open space without fair compensation, hopes various sources of funding can be pulled together to save the base of Shadow Mountain.”Between private donors, the city, the county, TDRs, tax breaks and a little help from the Aspen Valley Land Trust, we ought to be able to put a package together,” he said.[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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