Gorsuch review in 7th inning stretch

Feb 15, 2017


 The Gorsuch Haus development proposal brought scores of public comment to the Aspen City Council this week. There are those in favor of the new hotel and chairlift, others object to the size of the development.

The full development application is almost 1,000 pages and triggers eight different land use review processes. It’s messy and there are a lot of moving parts, but, since the council voted to continue the discussion until its March 6 meeting, we have some time to get caught up. Let’s use a baseball analogy.

At bat is Aspen businessman Jeff Gorsuch. He and his partners want to build a hotel and revitalize the access point to Ajax near the 40-year-old 1A chairlift. This requires a three-step approval process.

The games starts with getting the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to approve the project. But they struck out there. The six-member citizen board voted unanimously recommending denial.

The next inning is getting Aspen City Council to approve the project. This happen by the city’s community development staff presenting council with the proposal and a suggested course of action. In this case, staff does not support the development.

So, two up, two down for Gorsuch Haus.

But, fans say there are merits to the development. Former Mayor Bill Stirling is among those who still have their rally caps on.

“It will not block anyone’s view of the mountain, it will offer hot beds, great public gathering spaces, a new lift, more affordable housing,” said Stirling during public comment on Monday. “It’ll be a sensational framework for future World Cup races … and those are the things that make us truly a ski town.”    

See, the Gorsuch Haus project isn’t just a hotel. Design mock ups show an entire plaza similar to that at the base of Aspen Highlands. In addition to the “hot beds,” there is a restaurant and bar, condos, a public plaza and a new high-speed quad jetting up the west side of Aspen Mountain.

The land in question has been zoned “conservation” since 1975 in an effort to keep Aspen’s southwest side small and focused on recreation. So, some bases would be stolen by skirting the the zoning requirements, but, proponents say, the replacement of Lift 1A is a huge public amenity that is surely worth trading for a couple of stories on a hotel.    

Council member Ann Mullins questioned if that is really a fair trade. Everybody seems to agree about revitalizing the mountain west side, she said.

“[But] revitalizing is not burying the lift within the hotel complex. It’s opening the whole thing up so that it’s publicly accessible and supported by this lodge.” Mullins said.

Council is not done speaking with the Gorsuch Haus applicants about their plan, but let’s pretend they do knock it out of the park and get an approval. That would mean the Aspen Skiing Company-owned land would need to be converted to a zone type that allows a building of the size proposed, which would be a whole new ballgame. But Aspenites have been known to throw curveballs by challenging zoning changes through a citizen referendum.