New hotel inventory versus townhomes
Almost four years ago, our company received final approvals from the city of Aspen to construct 14 townhomes and 17 affordable housing units on 2.4 acres located in the designated lodge zone on the west side of South Aspen Street adjacent to Lift 1A. That project would contain more than 84,000 square feet of pure residential development. During those final public hearings, the city expressed much frustration that this location was much more appropriate for a hotel than these residential units. Despite the substantial financial and political risks, we decided to pursue approval for the first new hotel to be proposed in Aspen in almost 20 years. We have worked diligently for more than three and a half years with our neighbors, city staff and several different Planning and Zoning commissions and City Councils to design the very best hotel and residential project possible for this location. During literally thousands of hours of discussions and hundreds of meetings, we have been challenged with finding creative ways to balance our community’s character with a project that would be attractive to Aspen’s tourism base, and of course, be financially feasible. The resultant project, the proposed Lodge at Aspen Mountain, includes: 80 hotel rooms, 21 fractional lodging units, four whole-ownership units, almost 4,000 square feet of new meeting space and 54 on- and off-site affordable housing units for 108 people. The extensive time and financial risks required to find an appropriate balance for such a complex project is a main reason no other new hotels have been proposed, let alone approved, in Aspen for more than two decades. Moreover, today’s financial institutions require a significant residential element to be included in resort hotel projects to reduce the longer-term risks of the hotel. Accepting this reality, along with the responsibility to minimize our impacts on the Aspen community, we have worked diligently to make significant changes focused on reducing the building’s height and mass. Specifically, heights decreased by about 25 feet in some areas, 10-15 feet in others. As measured by code, the building’s highest point is 49 feet, much of the building is less than 42 feet and, on the perimeters, less than 30 feet in most areas. These changes make our building lower than the St. Regis, the same height or lower than the Hotel Jerome, and most of it lower than the Grand Hyatt. Because of these reductions and a number of other changes and concessions, the neighboring homeowners associations of Shadow Mountain, Lift One, Timber Ridge and Juan Street are all on public record in general support of the proposed project. We have also developed the following unprecedented ways to reduce overall community impacts: Energy – Working with the Rocky Mountain Institute, Aspen’s Canary Initiative and building offices, and CORE, we developed an aggressive new energy conservation program that requires us to be at least 30 percent more energy efficient than other Aspen hotels. Construction – Our Construction Management Plan far exceeds many Aspen requirements. It includes requiring the project work force to park at the Brush Creek intercept lot and take mass transit to the site. Affordable housing – We are providing double the required number of on-site affordable housing units, housing 10 percent more people than required, and providing more housing in the city limits than what is required. In addition to unique impact mitigation commitments, the following significant community benefits are part of the hotel project: 1) A new, public, high-speed lift replacing Lift 1A; 2) South Aspen Street and the sidewalks on both sides will be snowmelted from the new lift to Durant Street; 3) Additional public parking far in excess of the requirement; 4) Support of local nonprofits including: meeting space, room tax donations to local charities, vocational training for high school students, support of World Cup and other local charity events. None of these benefits is part of the approved townhome project.As a result of these commitments and the comprehensive community input that has shaped this project, the project has received consistently strong endorsements from city staff, conceptual and final approvals from the Planning and Zoning Commission, and unanimous conceptual approval of 4-0 from the Aspen City Council in 2005. The city Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously agreed the project is “exceptional” as defined by the city code. Only final approval from the council remains. Due to the conflict of interest of two council members, all three of the remaining members must vote in favor of the project for it to be approved. We respectfully ask this council to approve the project or refer it to the next council. With the City Council elections having just taken place (and still undetermined in part) the community should get the benefit of review of a project of this magnitude by the new council. Besides, who really wants 14 townhomes in this prime location? Let’s bring back vitality to this side of the mountain with the hotel.John Sarpa, Scot Matteson and Mike Smith are all representatives for Centurion Partners, developers of Lodge at Aspen Mountain.
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