Soapbox: Aspen Club wrong site for lodging
The Aspen Club and Spa real estate deal is a Trojan horse. Before the gift horse was dragged into the gates of Troy and the Greeks jumped out in the night to sack the city, a Trojan warned, I fear the Greeks even when they bear gifts. This is the third time that the threat of losing the community gift of the club, use by locals, jobs and an Aspen homespun business tradition have been used as reasons to put more jumbo homes, and now timeshares, into the East End. And, lordy, lordy, townhomes could be built instead. Aspen Club membership is already too costly for most locals. In addition, the developers are not guaranteeing that the club will remain if they get what they want. Apparently they can turn around and sell those development rights in a package.The danger here is the first intrusion of a commercial lodging venture into a residential neighborhood, rather than corralling lodging in the city core, as is the status quo. If this precedent were allowed, plaintiff lawyers would push cases for expansion of the commercial zone into other Aspen residential areas, tying up the city in still more legal battles. In 1996, the first community-gift ruse worked for Dick Butera, the former owner of the Aspen Club, who won City Council approval to build homes in the clubs parking lot in the cul-de-sac off the original Highway 82 entrance. His stated goal was to save the Aspen Club.But in the forgotten 96 deal, Butera was to keep his Highway 82 entrance and the majority of parking there, and move a few parking spots to the rear of the club for employees and rehab patients. He swore his parking-lot development plan was all for the community and the preservation of the club, which he promptly sold after getting council approval. That agreement with a past City Council was NEVER enforced, and Ute Avenue morphed into the main club entrance, becoming a rat race of hotel SUVs and 40-mph cell-phone talkers late for their workouts. As a disincentive, it appears, the foot bridge over the creek from the original parking lot to the club has been left to deteriorate. But adding that redevelopment value to the 5-acre parcel was bait enough for the Aspen Club Spa LLC to purchase the property for $5.5 million in 1997 and build out the parking lot; though for the out-of-town majority owners, under the agency of Garfield and Hecht (the sackers of the Red Onion), and minority owner Michael Fox, that profit was not enough to save the Aspen Club. In 2004 they argued that they just couldnt make it as an athletic club anymore and needed to build 19 timeshares, underground parking and eight affordable-housing units. They withdrew their proposal when they met resistance.Now theyre back with the same community-loss argument, but this time they want to build 20 timeshares, in 16th shares, on the tennis courts, 12 affordable units and 133 parking spaces, all accessible via Ute Avenue. But whats worse is that Ute is a dead-end street, so no traffic can pass through; it has to come back, thereby doubling any traffic increase.As is, at the intersection of Ute and Original, where the town bike and trail system crosses from the Alps into the North Star Preserve trail, you can never cross the street without first waiting for high-speed traffic from the Aspen Club end to impatiently roll through the Ute stop sign. At the same time, others take the Daytona turn off Original and down Ute on two wheels without having to stop. This creates a potential ground zero for pedestrians and bikes trying to take the trail toward Difficult Creek and beyond. Then there are the Ute Trail driver-hikers, behind schedule as well. Logically, since this is the only ped/bike route out of the East End, Ute should get the same no-vehicle-through-traffic signs and designation as West Hopkins heading toward the Marolt Open Space and the streets leading to the Music Tent in summer, rather than be thrown open to uncontrollable construction and lodging traffic.Right now, Ute Avenue needs a 15-mph speed limit, many speed bumps and more muscular enforcement of speeding and stop-sign cruisers. Further, allowing a commercial lodging development in that residential area would likely eliminate skier and residential parking along Ute, all so a real estate development can build timeshares outside of the business core.
Tim Cooney lives in Aspen.Editors note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If youd like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, extension 17624, or e-mail email@example.com.
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