A rendering of the proposed Hotel Lenado building, as seen from Whitaker Park. The rendering was in the Nov. 17, 2015 packet.
Credit: Source: City of Aspen/Forum Phi

ASPEN – Five members of Aspen’s planning and zoning commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the new building proposed for the site of the former Hotel Lenado, but did so with some reluctance.

“Is it the perfect small lodge that we’ve all dreamed of and wanted?” asked Keith Goode, the vice chair of P&Z. “No.”

The project would replace the 19-unit Hotel Lenado, built in 1984, with a sleek mixed-use building that includes four to nine lodge rooms, two big free-market units and a roof deck upstairs.

“I think it’s come a long way,” said Kelly McNicholas, a P&Z member. “But I have some sadness looking at that photo of the current Hotel Lenado. We’re losing a quaint piece of architecture that provided a lot more lodging for something that is very modern looking and doesn’t provide any of that same character.”

The five P&Z members voting at Tuesday’s meeting were McNicholas, Goode, Jason Elliott, Skippy Mesirow and Jesse Morris.

A porch on the alley side of the Hotel Lenado building in early November, 2015.
Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

A Lenado vibe

Lenado fireplace

There was only one public comment made at the meeting. Karen Day, an interior designer in Aspen, said she worked on the original interior of the Hotel Lenado, which looked and felt both rustic and refined, and was inspired by the ethos of the funky community of Lenado above Woody Creek.

“There is a huge contingent in this community that is emotionally attached to this project,” Day said. “For instance, the logs on each side of the fireplace were cut by the people who lived in Lenado. And I would just like to say that there are a lot of people in this town who are really heartbroken that a piece of Harry Teague architecture is going under the wrecking ball.” (Ed. note: Teague is on the board of Aspen Journalism).

“We’ve tried really hard here,” said Steev Wilson, an architect with Forum Phi of Aspen, which is representing the property owner, Tom Dundon of Dallas.

Wilson pointed out that a duplex or a little-used single-family home could be built instead on the lot, which is at the corner of South Aspen Street and East Hopkins Avenue, a block away from Aspen’s downtown core.

“It may not be the 19 keys you’re used to, but I think keeping nine keys is better than none,” Wilson said.

He also said the building, at 10,885 square feet, is much smaller than is technically allowed on the 9,000-square-foot lot.

A rendering of the first proposed building put forth by the owner of the Hotel Lenado property.
Credit: Source: City of Aspen/Forum Phi

A long way

Goode and other P&Z members told Wilson they appreciated the significant changes that Forum Phi has made to the proposed building since it was first brought before the commission, when one neighbor said it looked like a medical office building.

“Going through iteration after iteration, we’ve asked a lot, and a lot has been delivered,” said Mesirow, pointing out that the building height has been lowered from 32 to 28 feet, save for the elevator shaft and stairwell on the building’s roof deck.

However, the approval by P&Z was against the recommendation of the city’s deputy planning director, Jennifer Phelan.

“I think the building’s too big for the site and the neighborhood,” Phelan told P&Z members Tuesday evening, referring to a design guideline that says new lodges should fit in with surrounding neighborhoods.

Before voting in favor of the project, Mesirow said while the proposed building was consistent with the city’s land use code, “we have to recognize that this is a poor project for this town.

“Going from 19 hotel rooms to four, less use, less vitality, I think it’s really unfortunate,” he said. “We’re having a big discussion about does the code meet our values as a community, and this project, I hope, will be a catalyst for discussion around the lodge preservation overlay, because if this can go forward than clearly it does not.”

The Aspen City Council has the option of “calling up” the proposed building to review P&Z’s decision and could remand it back to the commission to work on specific issues.

The project also needs to come back to P&Z, in any event, for a final commercial design review, but that is technical in nature and is not expected to substantially change the building.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of development in downtown Aspen. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015.

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...