Aspen Skiing Co. sweetens the pot to look for OK for Pandora
Aspen Skiing Co. has pledged to restrict development on the land it owns along Richmond Ridge in an attempt to gain approval from Pitkin County Commissioners for its proposed Pandora expansion.
Skico offers a restrictive covenant that “maintains and commits to rural and remote zoning and prohibits residential development” on its two plots outside of Pandora’s land.
In addition, the restrictive covenant respects the commitment that Skico officials had previously made to forgo any development potential on Pandora land. The proposal “prohibits improvements to buildings and recreational infrastructure, with the exception of an elevator, terminals, towers and elevator shacks, patrol cabins, restrooms, electrical utilities and services. water for lifts and these structures, ski slopes and glades, a service road for construction and maintenance.
Skico also restricts all winter and summer business events and activities on Pandora grounds.
The proposal was outlined in documents submitted to the county for the Commissioners’ upcoming hearing on Pandora’s expansion plan on Wednesday.
Skico wants to add 153 acres of Pandora land to the Aspen Mountain ski area. To do so, he must rezone 132 acres currently zoned rural and remote to Ski-Recreation and another 35 acres that are zoned for one residence per 10 acres at Ski-Recreation. The expansion would also use about 60 acres of national forest land. The US Forest Service has already approved the expansion. County approval for rezoning is also required.
The proposed restrictive covenant is Skico’s response to signals from some of the county commissioners in a September 8 hearing that the company should sweeten the pot to potentially get Pandora’s approval. At that meeting, some commissioners asked Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan if the company would commit to sterilizing its land along Richmond Ridge, outside of Pandora’s land. He responded that company staff would review the request and consult with the owner, the Crown family of Chicago.
A note to county commissioners from county planning staff said Skico’s proposal would restrict development of two plots in the rural and remote area. The county created Rural and Remote in the mid-1990s to ban the development of Red Mountain-style mansions in backcountry areas such as the back of Aspen Mountain. Rural and remote areas limit development to 1,000 square feet and limit utility extensions. Although it reduced the amount of development, it turned into a multi-million dollar luxury cabin development.
County planners fear the expansion of the Aspen Mountain ski area could trigger further development in rural and remote areas. They advised delaying Pandora’s approval until further assessment and planning can be done to limit development on Richmond Ridge.
Some Skico critics have accused in public hearings that the company will eventually use Pandora’s expansion to expand residential and even commercial development further into the Richmond Ridge backcountry. Skico undertakes not to do so. Additionally, by changing the zoning of the property on Pandora’s land, it would cede the rights to approximately seven residential units.
Skico wants to add the Pandora terrain to provide more options for skiers and snowboarders. The terrain would attract sliders to the upper eastern portion of Aspen Mountain and reduce pressure on the Ajax Express lift and terrain.
The new terrain would also significantly expand tree skiing in Aspen Mountain. The terrain is also mainly oriented east and holds snow well since it is above 10,000 feet in elevation.
The expansion proposal garnered broad support. More than 1,600 people have signed a petition seeking county approval.
Some opponents have criticized the move as just another growth program for Aspen. Some fear this will destroy the rural and remote protections that made Pitkin County unique in the high country of Colorado.
Pandora’s terrain has been skied for decades. Some “off-piste” skiers and riders do not want their reserve converted into standard ski area forage.
County commissioners approved the first reading of a rezoning order on September 8, but made it clear the matter was far from settled. A second reading is required for approval and will be considered on Wednesday. The meeting starts at noon but the exact time of Pandora’s hearing has yet to be released.