Pandora's

A map depicting potential trails and lift alignment for the proposed Pandora’s expansion.

Pitkin County commissioners will begin reviewing a rezoning request next week to accommodate Aspen Skiing Co.’s expansion plans for the Pandora’s section of the back side of Aspen Mountain.

Accompanying the request for rezoning is a separate application to approve an amended master plan containing possible upgrades for developed and undeveloped areas of Aspen Mountain. Commissioners will hold a regular meeting Wednesday starting at noon; the SkiCo issues are the last items on the agenda.

Both topics are slated for first reading, and the discussions may be held over the course of several weeks, and perhaps months.

“The applicant states that the Upgrade Plan ‘focuses on the intentions of [SkiCo] to enhance the total guest experience through a series of improvements. … Aspen Mountain strives to exceed its goals and objectives for providing its guests with world-class experiences,’” a memorandum from the county’s community development department to commissioners says.

The proposed ordinance outlining the rezoning request seeks the transfer of 35.28 acres from the AR-10 designation to the SKI-REC zone and 131.83 acres from the Rural and Remote designation to SKI-REC, for a total of about 167 acres. The land is a mix of SkiCo and U.S. Forest Service property. The Pandora’s section of Aspen

Mountain, as stated in company documents, encompasses 180 acres.

SKI-REC is the zoning designation the county has created for SkiCo’s four ski areas, plus an area of Ashcroft, according to Suzanne Wolff, assistant director of community development. AR-10 pertains to agricultural-residential zoning; Rural and Remote is intended to conserve and protect the natural environment while allowing limited recreational and residential uses, or to retain undeveloped areas.

“Basically, the area to be rezoned SKI-REC encompasses the area of the lift and then the ski runs around it,” Wolff said earlier this week.

The Pandora’s area currently is used by recreationalists for a less-crowded skiing and snowboarding experience. SkiCo’s expansion to that area is expected to move many of them to other areas of Aspen mountain’s back side.

Late last month, the Forest Service issued its final decision approving the Pandora’s development and its related snowmaking project. SkiCo has been looking to expand its Aspen Mountain terrain into the Pandora’s area at least since 1997, when the project was included in its master plan that year.

The proposed amendments to the Aspen Mountain master plan involve changes both to the existing ski area and the Pandora’s section. The list includes the Pandora’s lift and new ski terrain; an upgrade or realignment of two existing lifts (at Shadow and Bell mountains); new snowmaking coverage on six existing trails in the upper reaches of the ski area; a new headquarters building for ski patrollers; and the reopening of Ruthie’s restaurant, which could involve renovation or rebuilding.

Other changes, according to the memo, involve the construction of one or more cabins or huts in the vicinity of Ruthie’s for overnight accommodations; an expansion, remodel or redevelopment of the Buckhorn Cabin to provide an expanded shelter alternative and a food-and-beverage option for daily operations or special events; new cell-tower sites and fiber-optic lines; summer projects, including biking and hiking trails, climbing walls and an upgraded music venue; and the continuation of landscaping at the summit.

Wolff said SkiCo made its presentation to P&Z in December. Following a series of meetings on the issue, P&Z gave its blessing to the zoning and master-plan changes on March 19.

She said few people offered public comment during the P&Z process. She expects more input during the county commissioners’ meetings.

However, Marcella Larsen, who manages the interests of her family’s partnership that owns land near the area slated for rezoning, outlined several concerns in a recent letter to the P&Z.

“This is the most significant up-zoning that Pitkin County has seen since the Aspen Highlands development,” Larsen said.

She noted that the SKI-REC zone allows highly intensive uses such as duplexes, multifamily units, day care centers, restaurants, timeshares, parking lots and more.

The letter suggests that some of the Remote and Rural land to be rezoned falls outside of the Pandora’s expansion. The property “does not need to be rezoned and is likely to be (mis)used for highly intensive SKI-REC uses …,” Larsen wrote.

She added that the Remote and Rural upzoning should be conditioned, via text amendment, to prohibit intensive uses such as resort cabins. “This text amendment would discourage SkiCo and others from rezoning RR land to SKI-REC, and then later proposing major development on such land,” the letter says.

P&Z did not adopt the recommendations prior to its March 19 vote.

Wolff said county staff is recommending approval of the ordinance and resolution.

“Basically the county’s policy, and what has followed through with [various] master plans, was that no one wanted to see new ski areas. The policy states that we prefer expansions of existing ski areas to the creation of any new ones. That’s one piece of our recommendation,” she said.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.