Blumenthal: Town missing key players in Base Village completion
As our Town Council is about to embark on its review of the first major Base Village construction project since the onslaught of the recession, we’re facing the unfortunate loss of another critically important town staff member, Steve Ferris, community development director.
Steve, who joined the town staff just more than a year ago, came with experience and background in land-use development and planning but was new to Snowmass and unfamiliar with the peculiarities and specifics of our fair village. His learning curve was steep, but he was up to the challenge, dug in quickly and took charge in a very professional manner. Luckily there weren’t any major development projects awaiting review, and thus he had a fair opportunity to steep himself in the vagaries and complexities of our land-use code, past development history and community culture before the inevitable long-gestating shit hits the fan.
But the pace of development is quickly changing. Just as we are about to lose the head of the town department directly responsible for shepherding our land-use development processes, Related is coming to the Town Council on Aug. 5 to commence review of what likely will become the first of many requests for changes in its Base Village approvals.
As many of you will remember during the many years of review and controversy related to the Base Village approvals, the project finally was approved and voted on by the electorate in a hotly contested election, which resulted in a very slim majority favoring the plans approved by the Town Council at the time. That approval was for the entirety of Base Village, including all the various elements that make up that very complex project.
The individual Base Village buildings, whether commercial, residential or a combination of both, were carefully reviewed and finally approved as a whole based in substantial part on how successfully they would contribute to achieving economic vibrancy and sustainability of our resort-based economy.
In its effort to achieve these goals, several key, analytic, forward-looking assumptions underlied the town’s calculations in arriving at a properly sized, critically massed resort commercial core. The first was the need to increase revenues generated over all business operations in primary retail locations in our resort core from a bit less than $300 per square foot on average to $400 per square foot on average. In order to achieve this increase, it was determined necessary to create roughly 600 new lodging units, 80 percent of which were projected to be included in the rental pool, leading to about 480 units added to our critically essential base of hot beds. According to knowledgeable outside consultants, these stated increases in revenue and critical mass were necessary to achieve our goals of economic vibrancy and sustainability all within the context of not growing as big as we could be but just big enough to support and enhance the lifestyle that we all have come to expect and enjoy in this little piece of paradise.
A lot of history has flowed over and under the bridge since the emergence of Aspen Skiing Co.’s initial Base Village concept to its sell-out to Related to the Base Village bankruptcy under Related’s ownership to Related’s reacquisition of Base Village at a foreclosure sale at a small fraction of what it originally had agreed to pay for the entire project. Without going deeper into the morbid details of all that has transpired over the past four or five years, Related and the town are now ready to take up the very difficult and complex task of completing Base Village.
The first step in this process will be the completion of the Viceroy hotel with Building 13B. Related has proposed changes from its originally approved plans, which, per the recent review and approval by the Planning Commission, appear to be relatively minor when looking at that building as an isolated structure. However, it’s not yet clear whether the proposed changes are minor in the context of the entirety of Base Village, and the answer to that issue won’t be known until Related comes forward with its entire plan for the completion of the rest of the project.
Word on the street is that Related’s proposed changes for Building 13B will move through the review and approval process rather quickly and smoothly, but I’d suggest a word of caution to all involved in this process: Whatever changes are approved in connection with this building might have negative repercussions that impact achieving our underlying goals as outlined above — that is unless we all agree to change the goalposts.
This is a very complex project, and we must be extremely cautious moving forward with Related’s proposed changes — and all of this unfortunately without a knowledgeable and experienced community development director or a permanent town manager at the helm.
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