Snowmass gives first nod to Skico townhome request
The Aspen Times
By a slim majority, the Snowmass Village Town Council voted Tuesday to approve the first reading of an ordinance changing when Aspen Skiing Co. can build its Fanny Hill Townhomes project, a change it says is key to its ongoing commitment to building the Limelight Snowmass hotel in Base Village.
The current approvals for the Fanny Hill Townhomes on Wood Road require that several Base Village buildings that have not been started as of now be complete for construction on the residential project to start. Skico applied in December to change that phasing requirement so that the townhomes and Limelight Snowmass hotel, which it has proposed to build in Base Village, would be constructed concurrently.
The biggest objection from some council members to the request was “why now?” Mayor Markey Butler questioned why Skico hadn’t waited until after the legal agreements for new approvals for the overall Base Village project were complete, a process that must be finished 90 days after the Town Council’s Dec. 21 approval.
Don Schuster, Skico vice president of hospitality development, first responded by saying that the company already felt far behind on the Limelight, which he said should have been open by now.
“It’s also extremely frustrating from our perspective on what’s gone on,” Schuster said.
He recounted how the council had denied a request by Related in late 2014 to expedite the review process for the major Base Village application, after which Skico pulled its application for the Limelight.
“We had already committed to steel shop drawings for the project,” Schuster said.
“But because of the decision that was going to push this process out and the uncertainty that any Base Village was going to be built at all, we decided to pull that application because of capital risk, financial risk.”
Town Attorney John Dresser pointed out that the Limelight application was then separate from the larger Base Village review, something the Town Council approved at Skico’s request to help move the process along. Skico and Related both withdrew those applications after the council denied Related’s request for expedition, he said.
“I don’t know what agreement they made but both were withdrawn simultaneously,” Dresser said.
Schuster returned to the current application, saying that it was one of many major components key to Skico’s decision about the Limelight. The other hurdles are the approval of the major application, which occurred Dec. 21; agreements regarding the parking garage and Base Village plaza; the completion of the development agreements; and some “business-related items” as part of Skico’s agreement to buy the hotel lot from Related, Schuster said.
Schuster told the council that if the phasing change were to be approved, the company would return with design revisions for the cabins, now envisioned to be townhomes, this spring. Councilman Bob Sirkus said he thought the amendments should all be done at the same time.
“You state that there is a time crunch from your perspective,” Sirkus said. “You won’t share with us what that time crunch is. My feeling is that you just gotta go do your design work like everybody else.”
After a 40-minute executive session, the council called for legal counsel from Dresser, Schuster came back and said that Skico’s outside date for finalizing its agreement to purchase the lot for the Limelight is Jan. 31. While that deal won’t close until all the other agreements were satisfied, Schuster pointed out that the council doesn’t meet again until February, which is why he was hoping for approval on the first reading of the application Tuesday.
Butler thanked him for his transparency, and Councilman Bill Madsen made a motion to approve the ordinance.
“I think it’s been made clear by the Aspen Skiing Co. that the Fanny Hill Townhomes are the economic driver behind building the Limelight,” Madsen said.
The council voted unanimously to add a condition in the ordinance that all the development agreements between the town and Related had to be finalized for the ordinance to take effect. The elected officials voted 3-2 to approve the ordinance on first reading, with Sirkus and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk dissenting.
Also on Tuesday, the Town Council approved on second reading an application from Aspen Skiing Co. to remodel and slightly expand the Gwyn’s High Alpine building. The plans also require U.S. Forest Service approval, but the company expects to conduct construction this summer.
The renovations include updating the food counters in the cafeteria, relocating the bar to the main level and adding restrooms on that level as well as some structural improvements and roof repairs. David Corbin, Skico vice president of planning and development, has compared the renovation to the one completed at the Merry Go Round on Aspen Highlands, in that Skico aims to maintain the structure and character of the building while bringing it up to modern standards.
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Alex Rager believes that the search for affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley can sometimes boil down to luck and timing. “When you least expect it and when you most need it is when things happen,” she said.