‘Lift One’ Ballot Issues Could Shape Aspen’s Future

· Mar. 4, 2019, 11:00 am
Photo: Aspen Lift 1 SSieg 1Stina Sieg/CPR News
Signs in support of Lift One are visible all across Aspen, though the project is controversial. From left, Mexican visitors Rafael Orozco, Alejandro Fernandez and Karla Laveaga drink coffee at the base of the mountain.

Aspen residents are voting on a controversial plan that would bring new lodging and restaurants to the town's west end.

The election wraps up Tuesday.

The proposed project known as the Lift One Corridor has deeply divided people in town. But both sides can agree on one thing: this could change Aspen forever.

Developer Jeff Gorsuch thinks it would be for the better.

It’s “the most important, defining community transformational event that we’ll see in the next 50 years here,” he said.

One of the hotels in the deal would be his, the Gorsuch Haus, a 40-foot lodge with 81 rental units as well as commercial spaces and five apartments, one designated for workforce housing. Gorsuch insists the project will be great for skiers and revitalize the town’s west end by adding badly needed hotel rooms.

Photo: Aspen Lift 1 Gorsuch Haus Rendering 2Courtesy Gorsuch Haus
Rendering of Aspen's proposed Lift 1 redevelopment.

Crucial to the project is a new high-speed chairlift that would create a second easy loading site for skiers downtown. It would be located near where another famous lift once stood, Lift 1. Built more than 60 years ago, the original single-chair reached into town and was once heralded as the longest lift in the world.

By the 1970s, however, it was replaced by a faster lift with a loading area farther up, at the base of the mountain. This measure would move the lift 500 feet back downhill, from Aspen Street to Dean Street, which Gorsuch would not only harken back to Aspen’s early days, but modernize and improve the lift service.

He said it will also make Aspen a destination for high-profile ski events.

“Do we want to invite the world back to the idea that we can go forward as a community with great events and lodging and infrastructure to support the World Cup coming back and the story of Aspen and the idea of Aspen going forward?” Gorsuch said.

World Cup officials have cautioned the event won't return to Aspen until a newer lift is installed.

The Aspen City Council has pledged more than $4 million to the proposed project, which would also include a ski museum operated by the Aspen Historical Society. But some Aspenites are not having it. Bob Braudis was the Pitkin County Sheriff for 24 years, and is still a local fixture. He said the project is out of scale for the community.

Photo: Aspen Lift 1 Gorsuch Haus Rendering 1Courtesy Gorsuch Haus
Rendering of Aspen's proposed Lift 1 redevelopment.

“Jeff Gorsuch and I are friends,” he said. “If it was the Mother Teresa House, I'd be against it.”​

Braudis thinks the proposal is simply too much – too large, too tall for a town that’s consistently voted against major developments. Opponents also argue the project will increase traffic and worsen the area’s affordable housing crisis. City incentives allow for lodges with rooms that are less than 600 square feet to include fewer affordable housing units than normally required.

Also bothering Braudis is that the land where The Lift One Corridor development would be located is currently zoned for conservation, which allows for some building of homes and other projects – but not something of this size.

“They want a zoning change from woods and trees, conservation... to hotel, restaurants, bars, ski shops,” he said. “I don’t like it.”

Last week, the Aspen Times reported that the Lift One committee had spent more than $200,000 dollars on a campaign to support the project, while a group against the project it has said it only had a budget of $15,000.

The Times’ editorial board has come out against the project. The editorial board for its competitor, the Aspen Daily news, supports it.

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