Tramway benefits outweigh objections
Glenwood Springs city manager Mike Copp has raised serious questions about the Glenwood Caverns aerial tramway project, which could put the whole venture on the skids.Copp takes up where the city planning staff left off in opposing the tramway over two issues: parking and the Iron Mountain skyline.In a presentation last month to the Glenwood Springs Planning and Zoning Commission, city planners said the tramway’s base area proposal is 75 parking spaces short for the combined uses.And they say the aerial tramway and a mountaintop gift shop, restaurant and office building will make an unsightly protrusion on the Iron Mountain skyline.In spite of staff objections, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved variances allowing less parking and allowing the Iron Mountain development.Now, Copp has raised the issues again, calling on City Council to review the variances and demand closer conformity with city code on the parking and skyline issues. Normally, the planning commission’s approval is the final word on a variance.The development proposal is the third try at fitting a tramway base station into the crowded North Glenwood area. This time, the proposal lands the tram in Two Rivers Plaza, a commercial subdivision at the southeast corner of Highway 6 & 24 and Devereux Road.Capitalizing on the growth potential for tourism in Glenwood Springs with year-round access to the Glenwood Caverns, the base development proposal includes a 68-room hotel. Therein lies the parking shortage, say planners.City planners have assumed some double use of spaces by daytime caverns visitors and nighttime hotel guests, but say the plan still falls short.But the tramway and hotel development partners say they can make the joint uses work by encouraging most caverns visitors to park at their hotels and use the city bus.This newspaper agrees.As a society, we will never conquer our auto-addiction if we continue to provide easy parking for all. The city bus serves the entire hotel district, south and west, every 30 minutes, and caverns reservationists can explain the system to visitors.At the same time, the developers should promise that they will not come back to the city once the hotel is built a few years from now, whining about a lack of parking and looking for a reprieve. If they say now that they can make 118 parking spaces work, then they should do what it takes to live by that assertion.Looking up, the aerial tram towers and the mountaintop building will be visible – particularly from top-floor offices in the new City Hall. They’ll also be visible from downtown Glenwood Springs, from Seventh to 12th streets. Farther south, and the Flat Tops skyline appears above the top of Iron Mountain.But they won’t be eyesores. The towers and tram cars will be barely visible, and the mountaintop building is stepped back to mimic the ridgeline.Yes, city officials worked long and fought hard to enact the Hillside Preservation Overlay Zone, designed to protect our scenic hillsides from cutting scars and ridgeline development. And yes, this newspaper strongly supports the HPOZ.We recognize that even a modest violation of the HPOZ rules marks a dangerous precedent that could invite other incursions.However, the tramway will bring many benefits to the city. By providing year-round access to the Caverns, it offers a huge boost in tourism for the slower months of the year. And once it’s built, the tramway will be far more environmentally-friendly transportation for caverns visitors than the small buses that raise dust all day on Transfer Trail.With strong and clear language that cites the highly unique public benefit of this venture, City Council should endorse the Planning and Zoning Commission’s variance approvals.- Heather McGregor, managing editor
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