Skico Buttermilk plan facing double trouble
The Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal to redevelop Buttermilk and linkit to Highlands with a gondola faces double jeopardy with localgovernments.Although the project is in Pitkin County’s jurisdiction, it islikely to be forced through the city’s review process as well.City officials are negotiating with county officials to set upan unprecedented joint review process, representatives of bothgovernments confirmed. The city is seeking greater review powersthan it typically possesses, said City Manager Amy Margerum. “We’reseeking joint and equal review,” she said.In return, the city is considering granting the county greaterreview ability on the Burlingame affordable housing project, whichis in the city’s jurisdiction.It is common for the city and county to send projects of jointinterest to the other jurisdiction for advice, or what’s knownas “referral comments.” But the move is little more than a courtesy.The advice can be ignored.`It has huge impacts’Margerum said the city wants greater review ability on the Buttermilkplan because the ski area base could potentially be annexed intoAspen at some point. Even if it isn’t annexed, the Buttermilkbase is important to the city as a transportation hub and foraesthetic reasons.”The city feels it is the entrance to Aspen, that it has hugeimpacts,” she said.The Buttermilk base is being eyed for a 750-vehicle parking lotand a potential light-rail station. In addition, the Skico isplanning to build 73 affordable housing units and its consolidatedoffices there.The most intriguing – and for some people, the most controversial- aspect of the proposal is a gondola that will run from the summitof Buttermilk to the base of Highlands.”The vision,” said the Skico’s Buttermilk application, “is tounite the Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk ski areas to create anew `mountain’ – a third mountain complex that will complementAspen Mountain and Snowmass.”`Sensitive issue’County community development deputy director Lance Clarke saidthe county commissioners and City Council had a “brief discussion”about a general agreement on joint review in a public meetingin January.There was no agreement among the boards on the specifics of howmuch authority the city would have in the review process, Clarkesaid.The two government staffs are trying to hash that out now. However,a proposal sent to the city staff by the county staff gives thecity little more than advisory powers.”So I think we’re kind of back on the drawing board,” said Margerum.”It’s a little bit of a politically sensitive issue.”Leslie Lamont, chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners,said city and county officials agree that the city should have”something more” than the usual referral comments on the Buttermilkproject – “something just a little bit beyond a two-page memofrom the planning staff.”But she was uncertain on whether the county would be willing togrant the city the ability to say yes or no on the project. Margerum noted the city already has substantial review powersover the project because it will rely on city water.What it means to SkicoAspen Skiing Co. officials have been extremely cautious aboutexpressing their thoughts about the joint review since the projectgoes into the pipeline on April 20.Skico planner Lisa McManigal said it is premature to talk aboutthe review process, since the city and county haven’t reacheda decision.Government officials acknowledge the joint review could make theprocess more time consuming. In the case of elected boards, ajoint review would subject the plan to 12 voices instead of fiveon the BOCC, noted Clarke.”It will probably take longer,” he said.Lamont said joint review could require the Skico to alter itsapplication. It was prepared to meet criteria of the county land-usecode. Now, it may have to meet additional city regulations.Lamont said the county and city planning and zoning commissionswould likely hold joint meetings on the plan while the electedofficials would hold separate meetings.”It may be a little bit longer, but I think it would be a valuableprocess,” said Lamont.
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