Snowmass council unimpressed with Intrawest
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Like kids late on Christmas morning, the Snowmass Village Town Council asked executives from Intrawest recently, “Is that all?”
And like parents on a budget, Intrawest tried to suggest to the town that the big boxes they were giving weren’t just boxes, they were actually presents, too.
The board members and Intrawest were reviewing a list of “community benefits” last week that Intrawest has put forward to balance out the proposed Base Village project at the base of the Snowmass Ski Area. Intrawest is calling the project Snowmass Village.
Under the town’s land-use code, when a project comes in that is bigger, taller and denser than what the town’s community plan says it should be, a developer has the option to give the town a range of “community benefits” to offset the project’s impact.
If the Town Council thinks there are enough “exceptional circumstances” and the community benefits are substantial enough to make up for the oversized project, than it can still go forward.
And the Base Village project, put forward by Intrawest, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Skico’s owners, the Crown family of Chicago, has triggered the need for community benefits in a number of categories.
The Snowmass comprehensive plan calls for 200 units and 32,000 square feet of commercial space in the Base Village area.
But Intrawest is proposing 683 condos on the site, which it says are the equivalent under the town’s code of 354 units based on their size and configuration. And it is proposing approximately 150,000 square feet of commercial space.
In addition, the proposed five-, six- and seven-story buildings in the project exceed the town’s height limits and must be offset with a community benefit. And the buildings exceed the town’s “floor area ratio,” or size, restrictions.
On Aug. 26, representatives for Intrawest made the case that in order to achieve the goals in the town’s community plan, especially when it comes to economic vitality, they could not stay within the physical limits imposed by the comp plan or the town’s land-use code.
“I don’t know how we can do it within the physical limits of the code,” said Paul Shepherd, a vice president with Intrawest.
And Joe Miotto, a consultant to Intrawest with Stonefield Development, told the council that in order for Snowmass Village to stay economically healthy, it needs a new village of the size proposed by Intrawest.
“The town needs Base Village,” Miotto said.
He then made his case to the council that, essentially, the community benefit of the big buildings is the big buildings, or at least the economic activity they would ultimately produce in the town.
Intrawest also pointed to the 200 day-skier parking spaces it would build as a community benefit, as well as the “promotional walking plaza” that would be created at the base of the mountain.
But when Intrawest was finished making its case and sharing its proposed list of community benefits, they didn’t hear any applause from the Town Council.
“Today’s presentation isn’t getting there,” said Councilman Doug Mercatoris.
He told Intrawest what he expects to see listed as community benefits. They included such things as more employee housing units than the code requires or open space donated to the town.
Calling elements of the project, such as parking, “benefits” didn’t sway him.
“I have a hard time hearing about parking,” Mercatoris said, adding that “Doing a good development goes without saying. Our community does expect something over and beyond that.”
Snowmass Village resident and Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield also voiced skepticism about Intrawest’s pitch.
“In no way do I agree with the applicant’s proposal that the elements of the proposal count as community benefits,” Hatfield said. “I hope they re-examine their list and come up with a valid list.”
Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester pointed out that the real discussion about community benefits isn’t supposed to occur until the next level of project review.
But he did suggest to Intrawest that the types of things that he is looking for include aerial connections, or lifts, between Base Village and the mall and the Snowmass Center, a community pool or aquatic park, and a stream restoration project on Brush Creek.
Gary Raymond, head of Intrawest’s resort development group, told the council that there are limits to what the company was willing to do.
“We are a company,” he said. “We’re in business to make a profit.”
And he said the inherent quality of the project did have value as a community benefit. But on the other hand, he also told the council that “We need help in understanding what we’re missing.”
[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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