Tram project gets a lift from City Council approval
It was a bumpy ride, but the Glenwood Caverns tram project proposal was adopted, clearing the way for construction to start immediately.
In the early hours of Friday morning, after nearly five hours of debate, the Glenwood Springs City Council rejected the appeal filed May 5 by city manager Mike Copp, then approved major development permits for both the tram and the tram base station, hotel and commercial building.
The approvals clear the way for a tram system that will begin at a base station on a 3-acre parcel next to the new Land Rover dealership, just below Highway 6. It will run directly up to the top of Iron Mountain to Glenwood Caverns.
At the top, plans call for a bar, a retail outlet, an 80-by-30-foot observation deck and a snack bar. There will also be a meeting room for conferences and space for functions such as weddings. The bottom will eventually have a 68-room hotel and restaurant.
City Council Chambers was overflowing Thursday – and into Friday – with supporters wearing tennis-ball-colored stickers on their shirts that read “Tram! Yes!” Mixed in with the supporters were a few who opposed the project, as proposed, on various grounds. Nobody, however, expressed opposition to the idea of a tram itself.
Glenwood Tramway LLC partner and tramway engineer Chuck Peterson crowed about some of the tram’s unique features, promising city staff and residents the developers would “do it first-class.”
“This tramway up to this site is literally like no other that’s been proposed,” he said. “This one will be on what’s called a pulse system.”
He added that it will be the first true pulse-system tramway in the United States.
“The total trip time will take 7 1/2 minutes,” he said.
By “pulse,” Peterson explained that the tram will move quickly up the mountain, slowing down as the tram cars reach each end of the tram line, then speeding back up.
Eighteen towers will extend upward from the surface of Iron Mountain. At first, there will be four groupings of two cars. But depending on demand, this could be expanded to 12 groups of three cars.
A company called CWA will build the cars, then the towers and cable system will be installed by Poma, a company with an office in Grand Junction.
“Poma is really excited because they want a showpiece close to the factory,” Peterson said. “So they’ll do it right. It’ll be one of those things where people are going to get off and go `Whoa!'”
Copp’s appeal cited as its grounds a 40 percent deficiency of parking in relation to city code and the building’s large profile at the top of Iron Mountain. The building at the top of the mountain will be 50-by-80-foot and rise 40 feet high. The concern was if the development were approved, it could set a precedent, prompting other developers to ask for similar considerations.
“We’re not asking that council put more restrictions on this, we’re asking that council follow code,” Copp said. “We agree with the project, we’re just trying to be protective of our hillsides and parking.”
Richard Raskin of Walker Parking Consultants out of Los Angeles spoke to council on the parking issue, insisting the study was done strictly from the information given to him and was not just made up to satisfy his customer, Glenwood Tramway LLC.
“We want to make sure when parking is created in an area it’s what’s needed – not more, not less,” he said. “We would not, especially in a pristine community like this, suggest too many spaces and have them lie fallow.”
He warned that there could be a few days in the peak season when the lot might overflow, but said it will handle all cars 90 percent of the time. He said lots shouldn’t be built for those occasions when there are overflows because on most days there will be many empty spaces.
Considering the large number of audience members who attended the meeting for the tram issue, relatively few spoke during the public hearing on the matter.
Glenwood Springs resident and amateur historian Jim Nelson, who wrote a book on Glenwood Caverns, said the 30,000 to 40,000 people who visit the caverns now are parking somewhere, so the new parking lot should put all those cars in one central location rather than all over the city.
Others said that if there is a parking problem, it would be in the caverns and hotel owners’ best interest to solve it, or they would be losing business.
“The people there are going to solve the success problem,” said Glenwood Tramway attorney John Schenk.
Sheila Markowitz, who opposed the project, said, “This beautiful valley is being sold to those with money. It would be a travesty to allow this type of development to take place.”
Members of council determined that because the building at the top of Iron Mountain will be a landmark, it makes sense that it can be seen.
“I appreciate staff for doing their job and raising questions. … I personally supported the hillside preservation overlay zone,” Councilman Don Gillespie said. “I never intended it to mean the hills around here are sacred pieces of property to never be used.”
Council still will have the chance to approve the building’s color and materials, but the general shape is not negotiable.
“As far as having the building on top of the hill, I have absolutely no problem with that,” Mayor Don Vanderhoof said.
“Our goal is to work with city staff on colors and shapes,” Peterson said.
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