Raquet Club

Story poles were placed on the vacant parcel owned by the Smuggler Racquet Club last month, outlining where potential residential development could go. The membership voted down a land sale last week.

The story poles that were rising out of the Smuggler Racquet Club’s vacant lot are gone and, for now, so too is the potential for a 40-unit residential development on the site.

Last week the membership of the private club voted down a $15.5 million offer to sell the lot to Sunrise Company, which was proposing to build a mix of free market and affordable housing and soup up the club as well.

The plot of land is one of the last undeveloped lots within city limits, and has sat unzoned since it was annexed by the city from the county, after the county oversaw an extensive hazardous waste cleanup of what had been listed as a Superfund site by the EPA.

In order to give some context to the membership as to what the development might look like, story poles were placed throughout the 2.07-acre lot this summer. The polls marked where the corners of the different buildings would go, and rose up into the air to the proposed heights of the buildings. The plan called for 72,000 square feet of total new development, including 16 duplex- or townhome-style free market units and 22 to 24 affordable housing apartments totaling 24,000 square feet.

Inquiries regarding the story poles were directed to the club’s president, Torre, who is also the mayor of Aspen. He was recused from the land sale vote due to the potential for council to review the development in the future. In an interview with the Aspen Daily News earlier this summer, Torre emphasized that the vote was only asking membership if they would be open to selling the property to Sunrise, but did not come with exact development plans.

“The story polls and the markers that are up are for member consideration of ‘what-ifs?’ We are trying to educate them on what the impact would be,” Torre said.

Randall Bone, Sunrise Company’s CEO, said that while he has not received a formal written notice that the club’s members have decided not to move forward, he has been made aware of the results of the vote. Bone said he supports any decision made by the members and said it has been great working with the club to develop the proposal over the last three and a half years.

“It’s a fantastic club and a great group of real, true Aspen locals,” he said of the membership.

“[Sunrise has] always said we are happy to help them do whatever they want to do” with the land, Bone said. Whether that could mean amending the development plan to something that could get more member support is unknown and Sunrise has not received any feedback or requests regarding changes since the vote, Bone said.

While the undeveloped lot on a city bus route and close to trails and parks is an appealing prospect, the Smuggler Racquet Club site comes with some complications.

This is not the first time a residential development application has been floated on this land that has been a tennis club since 1973. A memo from the city of Aspen’s community development department addressing a similar proposal from 2006 outlines some of the questionable infrastructure lying beneath the surface. 

“It should be noted that the main access shaft to the former Mollie Gibson mine is located adjacent to Park Circle in the north-central portion of the property. While the entrance to the shaft is buried beneath several feet of mine waste rock and fill, mine water flows continuously from the shaft,” according to the minutes from a city council meeting where the 2006 proposal was discussed.  

The mine’s remnants contaminated the soil with heavy metals, smelter byproducts and lead in the groundwater. The Environmental Protection Agency created the Smuggler Superfund Site in the late 1980s, and Pitkin County was tasked with mitigating the area, which also includes the Centennial housing complex and the Smuggler trailer park. Pitkin County Environmental Health Manager Kurt Dahl said the county was given clean up orders for the site.

“The agreement was that we were going to cap. So there is a foot of cover that has been put over (the contaminants) and then there is also soil that’s been remediated and removed.” Dahl said. 

The site was delisted in 1999 and annexed by the city, which did not overlay any specific zoning classification on the racquet club parcel. If anything were to be built on the open field it would need to go through the planning and zoning process and development parameters would be assigned during the review. 

And though it is unzoned, there are still precautions required for any future developments on the delisted Superfund site, including the new affordable housing development the city is building at 517 Park Circle, next door to the racquet club.

As part of the building process, the city was required to test soil samples. A report on the findings prepared by geotechnical engineering consultants H-P/Kumar notes that Aspen’s mining history is still present throughout the town’s subfloor.

“Portions of the Aspen area are underlain by mine workings. The workings are primarily underground tunnels between Aspen and Smuggler Mountains southeast and east of the downtown area. The workings consist of numerous tunnels beginning a few hundred feet below the ground surface becoming shallower to the south. Under certain conditions these workings may collapse and cause surface subsidence. The [517 Park Circle] site appears to be on the eastern edge of these main tunnel workings.”

The risk analysis of subsurface voids came back negative for the 517 Park Circle site. Yet, the consultants noted that the soils used to cap toxins in the 1990s were relatively loose.

“The subsoils, below about 4 to 12 feet of fill, consist of silty sandy gravel with cobbles,” states the report. “Considering the subsurface conditions encountered in the exploratory borings and the nature of the proposed construction, we recommend the building be founded with spread footings bearing on the natural granular soils or properly placed and compacted structural fill.”

For the 517 Park Circle apartments, the city is working to steady the loose soil and take precautions to make sure there is adequate drainage and waterproofing in the foundation.

The Sunrise proposal, however, included underground parking for all the units, which would have been dug further into the soil than the city’s housing foundation. Bone, of Sunrise Company, said that based on his group’s preliminary work, they believed underground parking would be feasible, though expensive to build.

The many and varied complications of the site are a moot point, for now. In an open voting period, the members of the club cast their ballots regarding the land sale. The majority of the members said no.  

“The Smuggler Racquet Club has decided they will not enter into a development contract at this time,” said board member Rodney Jacobs, director of new business and development for the club.

In doing so, the members kept shovels from going in to Aspen’s precious undeveloped land, but they also forfeited significant upgrades that Sunrise would have performed for the club itself, including an indoor court. Jacobs did not rule out the potential to entertain other offers in the future, but not before some self reflection from the membership.

“The club will further discuss amongst members what kind of development might be agreeable to the vast majority of members, who we are as a club and what club legacy we wish to leave for our young members and their families as well as the new members that steadily join,” said Jacobs.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.