Ski lift into town is back on the table
September 12, 2008
ASPEN ” Bringing lift-served skiing into town at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side has been resurrected.
After 23 meetings, the Lift One Task Force ” a group of 27 residents charged with developing a master plan for the 8-acre site ” has failed to find enough of a community benefit to allow two large hotels to be built on either side of South Aspen Street.
The task force on Thursday decided to not decide on the type of “people mover” that would take people up the steep slope and to a new Lift 1A chairlift 150 feet farther uphill. Instead, the group decided to re-visit what it would take to get a POMA lift installed where the historic Lift One terminal is, located near Dean Street in Willoughby Park. That lift, much like a T-bar, would take riders to the base of Lift 1A.
A lift coming farther down the hill was a driving force in the creation of the task force, which was born out of two land-use applications that proposed hotels in the area, one of which would require Lift 1A moving up the mountain.
And, after 23 meetings, it was apparent on Thursday that the task force wasn’t ready to sign off on any of the “people mover” options presented to them, which included an above ground escalator, elevators, a trolley, a cable car, or an underground escalator.
The task force has a deadline of Sept. 25 to make a recommendation to the City Council on a master plan that will ultimately serve as a land-use application for hundreds of thousands of square feet in commercial and residential space. The deadline likely will get pushed back since several major issues haven’t been dealt with.
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The group hasn’t seen the latest architectural sketches that show how big two proposed hotels will be on either side of South Aspen Street.
The size and footprint of those hotels, as well as what technology will assist people up the steep slope to the mountain, are arguably the most important pieces to the development puzzle in the area.
And now the group finds itself running up against the clock with the most important questions still to be answered.
“Until we come up with a community benefit on this site plan, it doesn’t matter how big those buildings are,” said task force member Allyn Harvey. “We’re not ready to finish this discussion [about a lift] so there is no point in moving to the next one.”
There was a lot of discussion among task force members and the public on Thursday about whether there is enough community benefit to move forward with an overhauled redevelopment plan.
“What is the community getting out of this? I feel like we are going to the lowest common denominator with the people mover and it’s not as visionary as I had hoped,” said task force member Yasmine dePagter, adding many residents are stopping her on the street asking why the city should give up rights of way and entire streets to make way for hotel development without anything substantial in return.
John Sarpa, a partner with Centurion Partners which plans to build a hotel on the east side of South Aspen Street, said a well-thought out, revitalized area with public spaces and amenities is a community benefit.
But it became clear on Thursday when the task force was asked to agree on a “people mover” that its members haven’t been able to get past the possibility of lift-served skiing near Dean Street.
The task force several weeks ago accepted the Aspen Skiing Co.’s position that a lift in the historic Lift One corridor wasn’t possible because of space constraints.
“I let go of the lift coming down because I thought there would be something that was uniquely Aspen with a people mover,” said task force member Cliff Weiss.
DePagter characterized it by saying the task force was backed into a corner in having to choose a people mover option instead of a lower chairlift.
The task force has only three meetings left to hash it out before making a recommendation, although there has been some talk about extending the deadline to work through the remaining issues.
Regardless, it’s not much time, said Bob Hoover, an attorney representing the Mountain Queen Homeowners’ Association.
“The two most important things, the buildings and a people mover, will be given short shrift,” he said, adding neighbors in the area are skeptical of the new development, fearing increased traffic and a reduced quality of life.
“Many people on the Monarch side are gearing up for battle.”