Guest column: Think about long-term interests
The Aspen Area Community Plan (dating back to 1990), various citizen task forces and many city councils have been discussing and wishing over the years for the creation of affordable free-market lodging, but no workable proposals nor any practical ideas have materialized.
Finally, a new developer, in response to a city of Aspen Community Development (city planners) recommendation, has decided to see if two small, affordable lodges could work economically for the city and him. It would take two sites to combine enough small, affordable units in order for affordable lodging to pencil out. The two disparate locations are Base2, on the old filling-station site across from Carl’s, and Base1, already approved on the old Johnny McGurie’s spot across from City Market.
I have never met the developer. It is ironic that such a proposal lands on the City Council’s table at this time, slightly before but in the context of the newly passed city charter amendment, requiring any commercial projects with council-passed variances for height, mass, affordable housing and parking to go before the voters.
Some of the objections to Base2 proposed on the northwest corner of East Main and Monarch are too little parking; too little affordable housing; too tall; not enough setbacks; how to protect the small-room, affordable-price concept into the future; and too much mass. There is discussion among Referendum 1 supporters to take any council-approved Base2 proposal with variances to the voters. If Base2 is not taken to the voters, some residents are proposing to use the citizen-initiative pathway, forcing a townwide vote. So far, the city attorney has articulated that he believes this application, first presented in 2014, is not subject to Referendum 1, nor at this moment would any of its variances be subject to a vote.
It is interesting to note that the Limelight, a notch down from the downtown luxury hotels, is a raving success among locals and guests alike. The newly approved Sky Hotel across from the Little Nell Hotel should fit perfectly into this midprice niche. Base1 and Base2 would take affordable tourist lodging to a markedly lower level.
I would urge the City Council to keep up this dialogue with the Base2 proposal and reach a compromise on the following points, cited in the paragraph above:
1. Use the parking garage, even if for a five-year trial basis, which has never filled up in 25 years except once or twice for the Fourth of July and X Games. This would be a good compromise and bring income to the city. The developer might still have to produce more parking by other means, as well.
2. Use the lodge-overlay affordable-housing calculation, as it is a budget lodge with fewer services and will have fewer employees.
3. Its height is below the Hotel Jerome and only 4 feet higher than Carl’s mansard roof (it is also lower that the approved redo of the 36-foot-high Boomerang in a residential zone along West Hopkins Street).
4. Such a lodge could work well without front or side setbacks — just look at the Jerome.
5. Deed-restrict the room size, the prohibition on combining rooms and the guarantee of the affordable pricing concept so only a future council could consider changing this part of the approval.
I believe it is an excellent corner for such an affordable lodge, as already Main Street is lined with our shrinking group of affordable lodges. It should be a flat roof to give it a lower scale and reduce its mass by almost 16 percent, and the filling station will become a distant memory. I would say this corner has been aching for a redo, and why not for a use so sorely needed by the community, affordable guest lodging? This new lodge would anchor the entire block, just as the Jerome anchors the block to the east. This affordable lodge could fit well with the residential neighborhood on the other side of the alley and actually would loom over the adjacent neighborhood far less than the Jerome. Keeping the underlying mixed-use zoning is good, as it directs the council to be sensitive to the Residential 6 Zone on the other side of the alley.
Base2 could become a community gathering spot and might be a great mix and match of guests in the hotel looking for affordable, short-term beds and meeting locals. It reminds me of New York City over the past decade, where newer, more affordable, cool hotels with smaller rooms have been sprouting up all over Manhattan.
Base2 is a concept that symbolizes the essence of the perennial balancing act between the town (the locals) and the resort (all of our amenities that serve locals and the guests so well). With the passage of Referendum 1, the scales seem to suggest an emphasis shifting more onto what is best for the town and a bit less on what helps the resort to thrive and prosper in the long run. You only had to listen to the two candidates in the recent runoff for the council, as also indicated by the passage of Referendum 1, which seeks voter involvement and approval for many variances. However, a reasonable, creative compromise between the council and the Base2 developer could be in the best long-term interests of both the town and the resort. Just because it might end up with some variances does not mean it is against locals or not good for Aspen well into the future.
Why did we move here in the first place? I dare say, for me, it was probably more for the resort (skiing, mountains, hiking, music and the world of ideas) than the town. However, I soon discovered the greatest place to visit is also the best place to live!
Bill Stirling is an Aspen real estate agent and former mayor.
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