Aspen Ridge branded too massive

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Fresh from telling the developer of Aspen Ridge to rethink his project Thursday night, the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission heard consultant Stan Clauson outline how he plans to help guide the city through the process of redeveloping the base of the ski area.

Societal "trends and changing demographics may require fresh concepts and sophisticated new ideas," Clauson said.

Clauson has been retained by the city to create a set of guidelines that would ensure that attractive public spaces and interconnected pedestrian walkways are created with coming plans to redevelop antiquated resort buildings and public infrastructure in the horseshoe that surrounds the lowest ski slopes at Mount Werner.

Clauson and city planners will meet with the public from 9 a.m. to noon today to kick off the process at the Burgess Creek Room in the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.

"We're going to ask the community what its vision is for the future of the base area," Clauson said.

Among the challenges that need to be tackled, he said, is making plans for a high frequency Steamboat Springs Transit circulation system at the ski area. Mount Werner Circle needs to be reconfigured, and the gondola transit center needs to be improved.

Removing impediments to redevelopment is important, Clauson said.

Finding ways to diversify the mix and quality of retail at the base area will be a complex task, he promised, as will providing a plan for new public spaces in the area.

Clauson and his team intend to give city leaders and stakeholders an illustrative guide to current building heights in shopping areas throughout North America and Europe, so they can decide what's appropriate for Steamboat.

Allowable building heights at the ski area base were at the crux of Planning Commission member's deliberations about plans for Aspen Ridge.

Steve Peer of Washington, D.C.-based Cafritz Interests is proposing to tear down the existing Ptarmigan Inn and, in its place, build a 60-unit condominium building of about 158,000 square feet. Thursday night's hearing was preliminary, and no vote was taken.

City planner Jonathan Spence told the Planning Commission that, at a proposed height of 118 feet, the Aspen Ridge condo building would more than double the allowed height in the Gondola-1 (G-1) zoning district. Its proposed square footage is triple what is allowed.

"The proposed Aspen Ridge project shows a complete disregard for the existing underlying zone district and the process that led to its requirements," Spence wrote in his recommendations to the commission. "Not only are the height and density completely unreasonable, but also the professed public benefit, that of density in and of itself, is nonsensical."

Architect Eric Smith and consultant Ford Frick, speaking on behalf of the applicant, refuted Spence's assertions.

Smith pointed to a zoning map of the ski area base and noted that the Ptarmigan/Aspen Ridge site represents the only parcel adjoining the slopes with G-1 zoning. Most of the other parcels at the base of the ski area have less restrictive G-2 zoning, and even the parcels higher up the slope in the Resort Residential zone permit more massive buildings, he said.

However, planning commissioner David Baldinger Jr. said the zoning for the Ptarmigan site had been chosen very carefully when the community development code was rewritten about five years ago.

"It's a beautiful building -- there's no doubt about it," Baldinger Jr. said. "And it's very encouraging to see people who want to invest in our community. But people should know we put a lot of thought into the code and where the densities are."

When the Ptarmigan site was zoned G-1, he said, the Planning Commission considered its orientation to neighbors, vehicular and pedestrian access, view corridors and historical zoning.

Because he "carried the torch" for Steamboat's new urban renewal authority, Baldinger Jr. said it was with regret that he reached the conclusion that Aspen Ridge as proposed wasn't suitable on the site.

"People need to follow our zoning code," Baldinger Jr. said. "This particular building doesn't fit on the site. It doesn't address its neighbors. It needs a do-over."

Frick, who has worked with many resort towns in the West, said increased density such as that offered by Aspen Ridge is critical if Steamboat wants to make its ski area base more vital.

"Density is necessary to create the vitality of the base," Frick said. "We need to take advantage of the few sites left to accomplish that."

Assistant City Planning Director Tim McHarg told the Planning Commission that density alone isn't sufficient.

"Just because an area is dense doesn't make it vital," McHarg said. "It's the context and synergy between buildings and land uses that creates vitality. A building of this mass has the potential to repeat the mistakes of the past."

More than 50 people listened to the two-hour discussion of the Aspen Ridge proposal. Some vacation homeowners in neighboring condo projects spoke against the project. There were also people who spoke in favor of it.

Longtime rancher Bill Gay said the vertical development at the ski area base is important to protecting open spaces in the south valley.

Vivian Raynor, who owns three units at the nearby Ptarmigan House condominiums, (a separate development form Ptarmigan Inn) said that the large Aspen Ridge project would disrupt the quality of life for her and her neighbors.

"We want to keep our property as a boutique hotel and not be shadowed by this monster," Raynor said.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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