Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Planners make suggestions to mitigate Nordic Inn expansion

A big building next to a Mt. Crested Butte neighborhood

by Mark Reaman

The Mt. Crested Butte Planning Commission is asking for some adjustments to “soften” the impacts of the proposed Nordic Inn expansion project and want to see public parking as part of the proposal. The owner of the hotel, Pearls Management, LLC, has a Planned Unit Development approval for an 80,000-square-foot expansion but is asking to make it closer to 100,000-square-feet and construct a high-end, 148-room luxury hotel on the site.

The Planning Commission members took a tour of the staked-out property on Wednesday, August 21 and most seemed a bit surprised at the scale of the project that wraps around the current Nordic Inn building.

The commission then regrouped at the town hall to consider the project. Project architect Gary Hartman of Sunlit Architecture presented a slideshow outlining why he thought the proposal was in compliance with town and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) guidelines. The project sits at the far north end of the core DDA boundary and abuts a neighborhood of single-family homes off of Treasury Road.

“The intent of the architecture reflects what the use is: a hotel. Our opportunity allows us to complement the neighborhood and still be somewhat unique,” Hartman said. “It reflects resort architecture and reflects the Nordic architectural roots of this neighborhood.”

“What is being proposed is smaller than what could be approved if it was in the business district,” pointed out planning commissioner Sara Morgan.

“But this spot is meant to transition from single-family residential to business,” said Planning Commission chair Dusty Demerson.

“This proposal is a 63 percent increase in square footage from the original zoning and a 30 percent increase from what was previously approved in the original PUD,” said planning commissioner Reed Meredith. “That’s an additional 20,000 square feet of building from the approved plan.”

“For perspective, it’s half the size of Mountaineer Square on twice the land,” said Morgan.

“But it’s next to a residential neighborhood,” responded Meredith, who lives in the adjoining neighborhood.

“It is still in the commercial core of the DDA,” said Morgan.

“We have big, massive buildings in the business core,” added planning commissioner Jamie Watt. “This has the hillside behind it to soften it. It’s a big building where big buildings are allowed.”

“Given the location next to the base area of the ski resort, the Lodge at Mountaineer Square makes sense in terms of size and mass,” said planning commissioner Lisa Lenander. “For this project at this location, I’d prefer to see something smaller. The same project but smaller, since residential is so close. That makes it different from Mountaineer Square.”

“I’m concerned with the scale and size next to a residential neighborhood,” agreed Demerson. “On the field trip, my takeaway was how much of the building scale was not hidden with the hillside. It will be a big building.”

Demerson suggested that the ends of the building on both the north and south sides be “stepped down” more. “We are trying to integrate a pretty big building into a sea of single-family homes on one end and condo buildings on the other,” he said.

Lenander and Meredith agreed with that suggestion.

“I’m not as concerned with the square footage as I am with how it is presented and the boxiness of it. I’m not sure I agree with Gary’s arguments on the massing. The flatness of the façade bothers me and I think it could use some variety to deal with the massing and scale,” said Demerson.

Project attorney Aaron Huckstep said he understood the suggestion to step down the north end of the building near the single-family homes but didn’t understand the south end request.

“It’s sheer visual,” replied Demerson. “There is a large wall on the south end and that makes the building look massive. The idea from me is to make the building appear less boxy. That’s my goal. It feels awfully big.”

“This is where big buildings belong,” said Watt.

“I don’t disagree it should be less boxy,” said Morgan, who was comfortable with the square footage but agreed the structure didn’t have to be six stories for its entire length.

“Landscaping will soften the lower third of the building,” suggested Hartman.

“Maybe in 40 years,” joked Demerson.

“I agree it needs softening,” said Meredith. “This building needs to be more part of the existing neighborhood. So if it could step down, it could better meet the guidelines. The guidelines on massing ask that the building be broken up and that’s what we are asking.”

“Definitely,” said Demerson. “The façade needs to be more interesting. I don’t know the solution but I see the problem.”

“The DDA was created in part because Mt. Crested Butte had too many unique buildings with different architecture styles and we wanted to bring some order to it,” said Meredith. “We wanted a theme for buildings in town. I’m not sure this proposal meets that like, say, the WestWall Lodge does.”

Watt suggested that having the first level look different could help break the tall column of the building.

Lenander said her conclusion from the site visit was that the building was huge and pretty close to the neighbors. “It seems really big and in their face,” she noted.

Hartman said the building was 74 feet away from the Evergreen condo building and 140 feet away from the closest neighbor on the north end, both distances well beyond setback requirements.

Planning commissioners also expressed concern with potential noise issues from the outdoor bar and swimming pool. Huckstep said that wasn’t a major part of the project and they would be willing to limit outdoor music and other noise as part of the PUD.

“If you want to impose reasonable noise regulations we’re open to that,” Huckstep said. “This isn’t intended to be a music venue. It is meant to be an amenity for guests.”

As for parking, the proposal includes 220 underground parking spaces. The town wants 75 of them to be dedicated for paid public parking, leaving 145 spaces for the hotel and its 148 rooms.

Huckstep said the developers believe 145 hotel parking spaces would be more than enough. He said the needed spaces would fluctuate given the activity of a particular week but “After a year or two we will know what is being used,” he said. “We can revisit the parking management agreement after a year and review it if you want.”

Demerson agreed that sounded reasonable.

Community development director Carlos Velado said the big parking issue could come if the town loses the lease on the Snowmass parking lot, which, he said, is used a lot by employees and guests; to lose that would cause a parking crunch. He agreed with Meredith that the town should insist on 75 parking spaces dedicated to the public as part of the expansion approval.

The developers will go back to the drawing board and try to address the concerns brought up by the Planning Commission. Those adjustments will be reviewed at the September 4 meeting. From there, the Planning Commission will make an official recommendation to the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council.

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