Tramway/hotel plan clears Glenwood P&Z
It’s thumbs-up for the Glenwood Caverns aerial tramway and hotel proposal, which now goes to the Glenwood Springs City Council for final approval.In a special meeting Tuesday, the Glenwood Springs Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval for a major development permit, two special use permits and variances for the project.Approvals for critical permits came on 4-3 votes, as planning commission members wrangled over the adequacy of parking at the project’s base and the mountaintop building’s protrusion above the Iron Mountain skyline.The project calls for a 68-room hotel, with 14,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, in the Two Rivers Plaza at Devereux Road and Highway 6; an aerial tramway from the hotel up Iron Mountain to the entrance to Glenwood Caverns; and a three-story, 9,500-square-foot building at the top of Iron Mountain.Caverns owner Steve Beckley said the tram would be built first, followed by the hotel and mountaintop building over the next several years.The partners in the project pushed for a fast-track approval from the city in order to start construction on the tramway this fall. Once the tram is finished, the caverns will be able to stay open as a year-round tourist attraction.At present, caverns visitors ride up Transfer Trail in buses in the summer and fall.Approvals for the mountaintop facilities are also needed from Garfield County, and the Colorado Tramway Safety Board, which must review the tramway engineering.The planning commission’s approval came in spite of a recommendation from city staff that the permit application be denied over the parking and skyline issues.City planner Patti Haefeli agreed that the project would be a tremendous benefit for Glenwood Springs, but said the 118 parking spaces offered simply won’t meet the needs of a hotel and a major tourist attraction.And the mountaintop building’s location violates regulations governing the city’s hard-won hillside preservation overlay zone, she said.Haefeli called on Beckley to employ the same sensitivity he used in reopening the caverns to push the building farther back, dropping it below the skyline.Her points hit home for planning commission chairman Jerry Hart and for members Resa Hayes and David Johnson. They cast the three dissenting votes on the request for a major development permit and for a zoning variance allowing the 61-foot-tall hotel in Two Rivers Plaza.But planning commissioners Dave Merritt, David Sturges, Joan Baldwin and Russell Brown said the benefits of the project outweighed the detriments.Merritt said it was fine to build an undersized parking lot because it will encourage more caverns visitors to use the city bus system or to walk.”As long as we require grand expanses of parking lots, we won’t make a dent in our traffic problems,” he said.Sturges said the building will only be visible on the skyline in downtown Glenwood Springs from Seventh to 12th streets.”The view is not offensive, and it would be a poor reason to turn down the proposal, because of all the positives it brings,” he said.
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