A campaign committee has formed to try to persuade voters to approve the Lift One corridor development project in the March 5 election.
Proponents registered the group “One for Aspen” with the city clerk’s office last week. Mick Ireland, a former Aspen mayor and a columnist for this newspaper, submitted the initial paperwork and will help the group with get-out-the-vote efforts, he said. Bryan Peterson, a principal on the Gorsuch Haus hotel development — one of two new lodges to be decided with the vote — will be responsible for filing required campaign-finance reports, Ireland said. The first report is due Feb. 12.
The Lift One corridor project encompasses the Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus — to be located on the east side of South Aspen Street. Both projects came forward independent of one another, but in March 2017, during a review of the Gorsuch Haus, Aspen City Council asked the developers to work together on trying to find a way to bring a new Lift 1A chairlift farther down the hill. A new lift was to be located on the Gorsuch Haus site, in roughly the same location as the existing lift.
The developers and Aspen Skiing Co. announced in May that they had figured out a workable site plan with a new lift steps from Dean Street, 500 feet downhill of the existing lift.
The planning and zoning and historic preservation commissions reviewed the projects this fall, sending it to city council with positive recommendations. The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board, however, felt that the developers’ housing proposal fell short. The developers would build just two units on site, covering the rest of their mitigation requirement through a to-be-determined plan involving either newly built units or affordable housing credit certificates. Both hotels are taking advantage of incentives in the city code — designed for lodges with high room densities — that lower their housing burden from the typical 65 percent of new employees generated to as little as 30 percent.
City council held five public hearings between November and Jan. 7, before agreeing to send the project on to voters. The council approved a request from the developers that, should the project pass, will have the city contributing $4.36 million toward the renovation of the historic Skiers Chalet building into a ski history museum and a rebuilding of Dean Street.
The project must be decided by voters because it will allow the ski area to expand into a city park and because of zoning implications of both hotels.
No one has stepped forward to organize a committee dedicated to defeating the land use proposal, according to Nicole Henning in the clerk’s office. However, negative sentiment toward the project persists in a great deal of social media commentary, with a focus on the city subsidy and the fact that the land where Gorsuch Haus sits — most of which is the bottom of an existing ski run — would be rezoned from “conservation” to “lodging.”
The pro campaign is targeting some of its messaging to counter those opposition points.
“We are here to dispel any ‘alternative facts’ being posted on social media,” says a post on Tuesday on Facebook, which explains that the $4.36 million taxpayer contribution — characterized as “cost sharing” — is dedicated toward public aspects of the project, and that the city has had a stake in the effort all along, after initiating the discussions about bringing the lift down the hill.
Ireland said that, beyond reminding voters that there is an election on March 5, he will work on “communicating to voters the benefits of this project” — chiefly, creating a more accessible portal to Aspen Mountain that comes into the downtown core and is not hidden behind the substantial buildings that will be developed.
If the vote comes out as a no, Ireland said “the question is how is it going to be developed?” He noted that, even with conservation zoning, the Gorsuch land could become a second home.
The “fact is that [the project] will open up the mountain to the public instead of having a dead, dark, second-home neighborhood, which is the alternative. Look across the street,” he said, referencing a row of luxury townhomes that are under construction.
The One for Aspen campaign will be hosting “coffee talks” throughout the campaign at the Gorsuch retail store and coffee bar in gondola plaza. Allyn Harvey, who has acted as project spokesman throughout the land use approval process, said they will also solicit campaign donations.
City campaign-finance rules do not place a limit on individual donations to ballot issue committees, and there is no requirement that donors be identified, though most campaigns voluntarily disclose donor information.
Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.