Council approves time extension for project crucial to lift placement

Developers behind the Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus proposals met on Tuesday with representatives of the city of Aspen, the Aspen Skiing Co. and a consultant hired by the city to study options for bringing a new Lift 1A closer to town.


The meeting came a day after Aspen City Council granted Lift One Lodge an additional year before development rights first granted in 2011 expire.


The approved Lift One Lodge plan, for a 77,000-square-foot timeshare hotel broken up into two buildings straddling a city park and with rehabilitated historic buildings containing a ski museum and affordable housing, would likely need to be changed significantly to accommodate a lower loading area alignment for the ski lift.


Vested development rights on the project would have expired in November of 2018 were it not for the one-year extension.


Property owner Michael Brown asked the council for a three-year extension, since it would likely take that long to come in with a new land use application, go through the public hearing process and apply for a building permit. He told the board his ownership group, which paid $22 million for the site and its land use approvals in 2015, is making a significant sacrifice by not building now, in what seems like a good time for real estate investment.


The city’s planning office, however, was recommending the one-year extension on the basis that it won’t take any longer than that to decide whether an amended site plan to accommodate a lower lift will happen. If the parties are able to work something out, the Lift One Lodge could get another time extension, but if not it would be back to status quo for the 2011 approval.


The debate on the final alignment of a new lift is brought to the forefront by the Gorsuch Haus proposal, which is planned for a property uphill from the Lift One Lodge that is currently home to the existing chairlift. That plan includes a new lift in roughly the same place as the old lift, although the alignment is designed so the chair could go lower if there was room down the hill.


City council tabled the Gorsuch Haus application last month so more time could be spent working on the lift issue. A consultant, SE Group, has been brought on to look at the lift and other potential transportation solutions to increase public access to the top of South Aspen Street, where the two new lodges are planned.


Planning office director Jessica Garrow told the council that depending on how the initial discussions go between the property owners and ski area operators, there will be more clarity soon on how long the consultant will take to produce a report. The first meeting bringing everyone into the same room was set for Tuesday, she told the council.


Negotiations between Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge about altering development plans to accommodate a longer chairlift ran aground previously. One or both properties would likely have to scale back building plans for a lift to work. Brown has spoken in opposition to the mass and scale of the upslope plan while launching a PR campaign to “keep Lift 1A public.”


The two sides are now attempting to work together.


“Michael feels very strongly that everyone can come up with something,” said planning consultant Sunny Vann, who is working on the Lift One Lodge project.


Councilman Adam Frisch said a new lift in the same spot, as proposed in the initial Gorsuch Haus application, ranks at the bottom of what he sees as three options. The other two are a lift that ends in the middle of the Lift One Lodge site or a lift that goes farther down to Dean Street.


He said he feels like “we are working backwards” and that the community should have first been asked where it wanted the lift to go, with development proposals crafted around those wishes.


Frisch added that a year should be plenty of time to solve the lift puzzle.


“It is not rocket science about lift geometry,” he said. “There is enough expertise in this community to know where a lift goes.”


During public comment, Mike Maple of Aspen told the council that tying the vesting extension to a lift realignment discussion is a “red herring” and that he doesn’t believe realistic lower locations exist for a new lift. The existing Lift One Lodge entitlements are worth too much and a neighboring property is subject to a deed restriction banning overhead ski lifts or any ski area infrastructure, Maple said, doubting the city could get over either hurdle.