A development project that would build townhomes at the base of Aspen Mountain instead of a lodge got a contentious initial reception from Aspen City Council Tuesday night.
Council voted 3-to-1, with Councilman Steve Skadron dissenting, to pass the first reading of a proposal to build 14 townhomes and 10 affordable housing apartments on the 2.4-acre South Aspen Street parcel, once planned for the Lodge at Aspen Mountain. “No” votes are a rarity on City Council first readings, which are typically a formality and precede the second reading, where a public hearing is held.
The proposal also includes building eight additional affordable housing units at the Aspen Airport Business Center, and the developers would pay $475,000 into the affordable housing fund to mitigate city housing requirements.
A previous owner of the land originally received an approval for 14 townhomes and 17 affordable housing units in 2003. Those approvals were put on hold while the former developer sought to build a project known as the Lodge at Aspen Mountain. The controversial project was never approved and the developer eventually declared bankruptcy. ASV Aspen Street Owners LLC, a group of Boston and Chicago investors, bought the site in 2010.
While Skadron was the sole dissenting vote, Mayor Mick Ireland and councilmen Torre and Adam Frisch agreed that they would prefer to see a lodging project over townhomes. (Councilman Derek Johnson recused himself from the discussion, because he lives within 300 feet of the site.)
Skadron argued that by passing the first reading, it would be giving the wrong message to the developer when the project was not in the best interest of the community.
Skadron also took issue with the fact that the proposal includes moving approved affordable housing units out of downtown Aspen.
Frisch acknowledged that there are financial and political hurdles that the developer would have to conquer in order to build a lodge on the parcel, and he suggested that City Council try to work with the developer to make the process easier.
“I think it’s a tremendous loss to the community,” Frisch said. “I think there are very, very few places left where you can put a hot-bed lodge. ... I’m willing to fight and do whatever it takes to get a lodge there.”
David Parker, a representative for the applicant, was present at the meeting and argued that the developer had spent a year trying to come up with a viable plan for lodging on the parcel.
“We’re lodge people too,” Parker said, noting that the applicant had developed lodging projects including the Hyatt Grand Aspen.
“I’m aware that there was a tremendous amount of time and effort to put lodging in there,” Parker said. “But they just could not do it. ... The economy has changed that much.”
Ireland suggested that there could be a middle ground that could be found, and both the developer and the city would benefit with further discussion at second reading, to be held next month.
“Maybe some of that space can be allocated that can help us,” Ireland said to Parker. “And maybe some of that space can help you.”