If city officials determine that a snowmelt system is required to maintain safe conditions on South Aspen Street after the potential development of two new hotels as part of a revitalized Lift One corridor, the city of Aspen will pay one-third of the cost to install such a system.
That was one of the final details ironed out between Aspen City Council and two hotel developers last week before the council referred the project to voters, who will have the final say on whether it goes forward in the March 5 election.
The cost of the possible snowmelt system is unknown at this point, and the city’s share would be in addition to $4.36 million the city council agreed to contribute toward the construction of a ski museum and infrastructure improvements.
The Lift One corridor project encompasses the Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge, along with a new ski museum and a new high-speed Lift 1A that would begin in Willoughby Park, steps from Dean Street. Siting the new lift 500 feet farther down the hill from the existing chairlift was the product of a year’s worth of negotiations and study between the developers, the Aspen Skiing Co. and a city-hired ski area design consultant.
The lower-lift scheme would not be possible without the city of Aspen’s 2015 acquisition of the Dolinsek parcel, which was sold at a reduced rate to the government for use as a city park. The land, which is adjacent to the corridor, is needed to provide enough space for skier circulation and snow maintenance to allow Aspen Mountain’s western base to connect to the downtown core.
Aspen City Council in the Jan. 7 meeting approved sending the project to voters, after five public hearings. Early in the review process, the city’s streets and engineering departments raised concerns about road safety on the steep stretch of South Aspen Street that would be used to access the lodges after the project comes on line. The road already presents winter maintenance challenges, which would be exacerbated with the additional traffic and road-narrowing impacts of the new lodges.
The ordinance that would come into effect if voters approve the Lift One corridor lays out the process by which road safety will be evaluated, ultimately putting the onus on a future city council to decide if snowmelt is needed. That decision point, however, would not come until at least one year after the lodges have been built.
The first step, which must occur within a year of final approval, involves the developers conducting traffic studies on the road to determine baseline conditions.
“The traffic study shall also include an evaluation of future traffic impacts as a result of the Gorsuch Haus development, the Lift One Lodge development and new location of Lift 1A near Dean Street,” the ordinance says. “Once complete, this study shall be submitted to the community development director for evaluation.”
The city, in turn, will evaluate the potential effectiveness of alternative road safety measures such as salt-based de-icers, use of magnesium chloride or another similar product, increased application of sand, or some combination of these alternatives. The city “shall also evaluate the potential of resurfacing South Aspen Street with a traction base material,” the ordinance says.
Beginning in the second year after approval, the city will begin looking into various technologies that could be used in a snowmelt system, including the financial and environmental costs of installation, maintenance and operation of such a system. The city of Aspen shall also explore renewable energy alternatives associated with this potential installation, the ordinance says.
Once the lodges are built, within a year, the developers will conduct a second traffic study determining the increase from baseline conditions.
To handle the increased impacts, the city will run through the suite of alternative maintenance methods, including increase sanding and plowing and potentially using chemical de-icers.
The city council could then make the call, in a public meeting, to require snowmelt on the street, “if it is found that a snowmelt system is the only mechanism to adequately and reasonably respond to winter street conditions and associated traffic impacts from the lodge developments,” the ordinance says.
“The following triggers shall also be used to evaluate this requirement: Unsafe conditions on South Aspen Street that do not allow the safe access of vehicles to the approved lodge developments; [or] excessive city of Aspen cost overruns and environmental impacts due to the increased service maintenance measures to South Aspen Street.”
It is unclear how much a snowmelt system would cost to install, but the tab is likely to be many millions of dollars to snowmelt the 500-foot stretch of road in question.
When the bill comes due, each lodge will pay one third with the city covering one third.
“The city’s third is based on the idea that there are other users of the street, and it is a public right of way,” Lift One corridor spokesman Allyn Harvey wrote in an email.
The Lift One Lodge agreed to cover the ongoing maintenance and operations of the snowmelt, once it is installed, Harvey added.
Those funds would be in addition to a $4.36 million city contribution the developers extracted from the council, which will pay the majority of the construction costs for a new ski museum and a rebuilding of Dean Street near the new mountain portal.