A hotel at Burlingame?
August 4, 2005
The invitation to write this guest editorial has been kindly extended to me because I was in disagreement with many of the opinions of the July 29 Aspen Times editorial, which supported most of the current Limelite redevelopment proposal before the Aspen City Council.I have lived in many places, both large and small, and we were finally able to move permanently to Aspen into a condominium at 210 E. Cooper Avenue, which has been owned and utilized as a vacation home and rental property by my wife since the early 1980s. My wife Andrea Clark and I have business offices here. Aspen is our home.The City Council, the business community and the community at large (including me) strongly supports the concept of providing “moderately priced” lodging for Aspen guests. I travel extensively on business and I stay in “moderately priced” hotels, albeit “moderately priced” is relative depending whether I am in New York or Omaha.My opposition to the current Limelite proposal is based upon the concessions being sought by the Paas family and the developers behind the project. I believe many of the concessions are onerous, detrimental to Aspen and if granted, set a precedent that will haunt Aspen in the future.My personal concern is the height variance (46 feet, which is 18 feet – 64 percent – above the 28-foot limit for residential buildings) being sought for the free-market residential units to be erected along the entire south side of Cooper Avenue. (Other variance issues and concessions can be addressed by experts in Aspen’s zoning and building codes.) Make no mistake, I have a “horse in this race,” specifically the impact that the residential units will have on our condominium and the enjoyment of our home.How does the height variance, requested in the Limelite proposal, forever alter the character of a town that has spectacular views to offer to its residents and visitors at no cost to anyone?The immediate threat is to the owners of 210 Cooper Condominiums. Whether the City Council allows or disallows this height variance for the free market residential units, a strong precedent will be established and the citizens directly affected by future developments will suffer the consequences or enjoy the benefits of the Limelite decision.The Aspen Times stated in an editorial on July 29, regarding the Limelite project: “Aspen needs more ‘hot beds’ and this proposal would deliver more of them, and at a moderate price. The town currently loses visitors to downvalley hotels during high season because it doesn’t have enough rooms in real-world price ranges.”I have expressed my opposition to the current Limelite proposal in the first part of this reply and in numerous letters to the editor and to City Council. To repeat the details here would be abusing this unusual privilege extended by the Times.A solution?I propose that the city seek proposals from hotel developer/operators to build a 200-room “moderately priced” hotel on city-owned property. The city would lease the land to the hotel developer/operators for $1 per year for a period of time that would be negotiated.In exchange, the city would receive contractual guarantees regarding the prices at which the rooms would be rented, with contractual future increase limits, similar to the restrictions on employee housing.The concept would work because, in Aspen, the “killer” for a private party to build (or even to continue to operate) a moderately-priced hotel is the high cost of the land. The details would need to be analyzed by someone far more knowledgeable than I, but is certainly worth exploring.I don’t know what land the city owns, other than Burlingame and Cozy Point Ranch. But without debating the already decided Burlingame project, would it make sense to explore a substitution of a hotel for Phase II and Phase III?Cozy Point Ranch is not as close to Aspen as Burlingame, but it certainly is not downvalley. Guests at that location are going to spend their money in Aspen or Snowmass, not in Carbondale or Glenwood Springs.I have heard that the condition of the Truscott employee housing has deteriorated. Would it make sense to build a hotel on the Truscott site and provide the displaced employees housing at Burglingame? What a bonus for Aspen to have middle-class guests housed overlooking the golf course at reasonable room rates.I invite debate on this concept.Since this may be my only opportunity to express myself in this manner, I want to convey my appreciation, respect and gratitude to everyone on the City Council, planning and zoning board, and everyone who serves Aspen and the community in any capacity. The time, effort and dedication are unusual, unique and not found in many places.
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