Caverns owner: Appeal would be trail’s end for tramway
An appeal of a decision to grant parking and hillside preservation variances to the Glenwood Tramway Co. could kill the tram project, Glenwood Caverns owner Steve Beckley said Tuesday.”They think it could just delay the project for six months, but that might kill the project,” Beckley said. “We have contracts in place that could impact whether the tram could be built or not.”Beckley, who formed the Glenwood Tramway Co. with tram engineer Chuck Peterson, said if the appeal delays the project for more than a month, the tram project could be history. The appeal was filed May 5 by Glenwood Springs city manager Mike Copp in a letter written to Community Development Director Andrew McGregor.It was filed soon after the April 30 Glenwood Springs Planning and Zoning Commission meeting where the commission approved a variance that would allow the tram towers and a 9,500-square-foot tram terminal at the top of Iron Mountain, which would impede on a portion of the city’s skyline.The commission also approved a variance that would allow the tram company to provide less parking than the city usually requires, Copp’s letter said.The variances would create a precedent “which marks the beginning of the end of the hard fought battle to create the (hillside preservation overlay zone) and protect the hillsides of Glenwood,” Copp wrote. “P&Z can pass variances that don’t have to go to council,” Copp said Tuesday. “We believe council really needs to see these variances.” The proposed tramway is designed to transport people up to the Glenwood Caverns, allowing the tourist attraction to be open year-round.The plan also calls for development at the tramway base, including a hotel and commercial building at Two Rivers Plaza, and at the top of Iron Mountain, where Beckley wants to build a gift shop, restaurant and bar that could host special events.In response to Copp’s appeal, Beckley argued that the tram falls into the city’s outdoor commercial recreational use category. He said he hopes that if any more conditions are imposed on the project by City Council, they can be met quickly. “I agree that we’re setting a precedent, but that precedent is having a tram to a world-class cave,” Beckley said. “It can truly become a landmark for the city.” As for the parking variance granted by the planning board, Copp wrote that the parking lot is deficient by 40 percent. “The applicant submitted a parking analysis which shows 118 spaces on site … The commission approved and adopted this analysis over objections of staff, who noted that if all uses were accounted for, an additional 75 spaces (or an additional 40 percent) would be required for the users located on the mountaintop,” Copp wrote.Beckley retorted, however, that a lack of parking would only hurt his business, so it would be in his best interest to calculate enough parking for the venture. Beckley also argued that the tram is on the bus line and within walking distance of several hotels, so the attraction would encourage mass transit and other alternative forms of transportation. Either way, he said, it would be better than having a massive parking area. He also contends that the tram will boost revenues, especially in the slower winter season.”It’s good for the city,” he said. “This tram is going to provide an additional 5 percent tax revenue boost to the city.”Copp wrote that the planning board “failed to address the impacts of the projects and failed to require that the applicant demonstrate compliance with the municipal code.”If the tram is built with its present design, the tram towers and tram terminal will “skyline,” Copp wrote, impacting the view of the mountain from various parts of the city. “The tramway’s impact is rivaled only by the impact of the 9,500-square-foot tram terminal at the top of Iron Mountain,” he wrote.”The two things council has really pushed hard on are parking and hillside preservation,” Copp said. “It can open doors for other projects on the hillsides.”Beckley insists, however, that the alignment presented to the city is the only one that’s possible. Also, he said the building has already been approved by Garfield County. “This is the only alignment. We’ve gone through four alignments already – this is the last one,” Beckley said. “From what we’ve seen, the (people in) town are very supportive of the project.”At the end of the appeal letter, Copp wrote that council could either deny the special review and variances, encouraging the applicants to refine the project, or modify the planning board’s decision and apply conditions that demonstrate compliance with the hillside overlay preservation zone, meet the variance criteria and provide adequate parking. “I feel we’ve really bent over backwards,” Beckley said, talking about the plans to have the towers and concrete flown in so a swath of trees doesn’t have to be cleared. “If there were conditions we could work through in 30 days, we could probably get it built … The worst-case scenario is it doesn’t get built.”
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