Shadow Mtn. dilemma: housing vs. open space |

Shadow Mtn. dilemma: housing vs. open space

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s desires for open space and worker housing butted heads Monday during a City Council review of Little Ajax, a project at the base of Shadow Mountain that one councilman called “a dilemma.”

“Two very highly held community values have come face to face,” observed Mayor Helen Klanderud.

The unresolved debate over a plan to construct 11 units of affordable housing and four free-market townhomes extending up the slope of Shadow Mountain will continue with a second public hearing before the council on May 27.

Also on that date, the council will again take up a request for city water service for a proposed 9,400-square-foot home on a separate parcel of land at the base of Shadow Mountain.

Little Ajax and the proposed mansion on the Reeder/Johnson lot have both garnered opposition from a growing coalition of Aspenites who are fighting development creeping up the slope of Shadow Mountain. The craggy peak forms the western flank of Aspen Mountain and drops precipitously down to the southern edge of town, west of the ski slopes.

The Friends of Shadow Mountain have called for preservation of developable parcels above the old Midland Railroad right of way that cuts across the base of the mountain; both applications before the council on Monday fell into that category.

Of the two, Little Ajax would be the larger and more visible project.

Developers Burton Kaplan and New York-based architect Peter Gluck are seeking approval to build nearly 30,000 square feet of housing, divided among three buildings, on vacant land along West Hopkins Avenue at the terminus of South Fifth Street. The parcel, of about 53,000 square feet, consists of two properties – one in the city limits and an adjacent one in unincorporated Pitkin County. The applicants have also petitioned for annexation of the upper parcel, which climbs up the mountain.

The former railroad right of way at one time cut across the proposed building site.

The property is in Aspen’s core and near public transportation, noted Joe Wells, planning consultant for the applicants.

“In all of town, I don’t know a better place to do affordable housing,” he said.

The gain of 11 units isn’t enough to warrant compromising the open space on Shadow Mountain, countered Rachel Richards, who will be sworn in as a new council member next month.

Approving Little Ajax could spur development on other private landholdings climbing the base of the mountain, she added.

“This may very well have a domino effect,” Richards said.

“We – the 700 members of the Friends of Shadow Mountain – say no, no, a thousand times, to anything above the Midland,” said group spokesman Michael Behrendt. “It’s a beautiful project, and it belongs downtown. It belongs on the flats. This is the wrong place.”

The two buildings containing the affordable housing are slated for flat land along West Hopkins and garnered no objections from citizens. But the four free-market townhomes with two caretaker units would be built into the rising slope. The four-story building, with parking on the bottom level, would rise about 33.5 feet from the finished grade to the roof, according to the application.

That’s 54 feet above Hopkins Avenue, Behrendt contends.

Consultants have recommended netting on rocky outcroppings to protect the development from rock fall.

“I think this is a very sad situation,” said local resident John Doremus. “It’s a very controversial project. There are 700-plus people that are fighting to stop it. In my view, it’s just not appropriate to build on Shadow Mountain, much like it’s inappropriate to build on Smuggler Mountain – we’re all working on that.”

The city is currently negotiating to acquire open space on Smuggler; the Friends have suggested Aspen make open space purchases to preserve the base of Shadow Mountain, as well.

“I think the issues that have been raised about Shadow Mountain as a whole, we need to deal with,” said Klanderud, suggesting the council meet with the city’s Open Space Board.

“We only have a finite amount of money,” Councilman Tom McCabe cautioned the Friends of Shadow Mountain. “It’s not as if the city can just come in and buy everything it needs on Shadow Mountain to make all the problems go away.”

The city does have the option of refusing to annex the upper piece of the Little Ajax site. Under current zoning, that would leave the landowners with the ability to build a 3,859-square-foot, single-family home on the piece in the city limits.

The steeper parcel, in the county, is currently zoned for a house and caretaker unit of up to 7,195 square feet, subject to the review of various geologic hazards on the former mining site, according to a staff memo. The owners might be able to seek subdivision of the property in the county, depending on how much of it exceeds a 45 percent slope, the memo notes.

Pitkin County commissioners have recommended the city limit development to the lower portion of the property, if it annexes the parcel.

How the city can best control development on both the Little Ajax site and the Reeder/Johnson lot appeared to be on the minds of council members Monday.

In the case of Reeder/Johnson, a lot behind the Aspen Ice Garden and outside the city limits, the owners already have county approval for a 9,400-square-foot home, plus a caretaker unit. A condition of the county approval requires the applicants to obtain water service from the city.

The city could deny the request, forcing the owners to pursue a well to serve the proposed home, or agree to provide water on the condition that the parcel be annexed to the city and its development be subject to city zoning, which would likely result in a smaller home. Or, the city could simply agree to provide water to the house that has been approved for the lot.

“I don’t want to get something less acceptable to us by turning this down,” Klanderud said.

“The more control the city has, the better,” agreed Councilman Tony Hershey.

Council members approved an ordinance to provide water service on first reading Monday, but indicated they intend to debate the matter further on May 27, before taking final action.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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