Pitkin County weighs in on whether price is right for historic preservation of Highland Bavarian Lodge

The Highland Bavarian Lodge property includes a pond fed by water from the Hope Mine.
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times Archive

The price to preserve a centerpiece of Aspen ski history might be too high for the owner and some Pitkin County commissioners.

County officials and Meredith Loring have attempted in several meetings this year to reach an agreement for the development of Highland Ranch near the confluence of Castle and Conundrum creeks southwest of Aspen. Loring expressed frustration last week at the slow process that keeps him paying a small army of consultants. Meanwhile, some county commissioners have questioned whether the public is giving too much in return for historic preservation.

At stake is the fate of the Highland Bavarian Lodge and the adjoining dormitory.

“This is likely the first ski lodge in the state to be documented,” said Sara Adams, land use and historical planning consultant for the owner, at the Pitkin County commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday.

“You have the property where it all started,” she later added. “It’s incredible.”

The Highland Bavarian Lodge was built in late 1936 and opened in time to welcome Christmas guests. Ski trails were dug along the valley floor and hardy guests could strap skins to their skis and ride up Richmond Ridge. The owners’ grandiose plans for skiing in the Castle Creek Valley lost momentum during World War II.

Pitkin County Historic Preservation Officer Suzannah Reid agreed that the property is one of a very small number of facilities that represent “our early ski history.”

“I think anything we can do to preserve our ski history is important,” Reid said.

The Highland Bavarian Lodge is situated on over 80 acres of land near the confluence of Castle and Conundrum creeks.
Anna Stonehouse Archive/Aspen Times

The 81.6-acre Highland Ranch is owned by Namuranch LLC, which is controlled by Loring and her husband, Sami Inkinen. Although Pitkin County is well known for its complex and extensive land use regulations, there are no requirements for historic preservation. Loring and Inkinen could demolish the historic ski lodge. Loring acknowledged that’s what she initially thought when she purchased the property, but supported preservation once she explored the history.

Pitkin County offers various incentives, such as more square footage of development, to encourage the preservation of historic structures.

“If we really wanted to keep this place as a museum, the county should have bought it.” — Curator Francie Jacober

Aspen land use planner Glenn Horn, representing the owners, said they believe the preservation and development plan “balances public and private interests”.

Here’s how the ledger would shake: Loring and Inkinen would place the lodge and dormitory on the historical record. In return, they would get a density bonus for a second vacant 5,750 square foot residence on the property; 7,500 square feet of additional floor space for development on what is known as the Mesa lot on the property; and a 10-year grandfathering period.

The Highland Bavarian Lodge’s original massive fireplace separates a living room and the dining room.
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times Archive

Pitkin County and the public would receive the removal of two non-historic additions to the lodge; a documentary film for the Aspen Historical Society that covers the lodge’s place in Aspen’s skiing history; an on-site interpretive sign on Castle Creek Road; and a conservation easement on another developable lot along Castle Creek Road. The owners would forfeit millions of dollars from a potential sale of the home’s land.

In total, a conservation easement would be placed on 49 acres, or 60%, of the ranch.

“I think it’s a pretty big win for the county, the way I see it,” Loring told the commissioners.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury countered that the additional development seemed like a “high price” for a promise not to demolish the buildings. She acknowledged that Highland Ranch is a “special place,” but questioned the benefits to the public as the equation currently stands.

Commissioner Steve Child said that while the part of the property known as the Castle Creek lot would be sterilized as part of the proposal, the development would be transferred to the Mesa lot rather than extinguished. The transfer would allow for a home of up to 13,250 square feet on the Mesa lot.

Mayor Willoughby (centre, front row) and his family in front of the Highland Bavarian Lodge with his Bavarian figures on the trim.
Courtesy of the Willoughby Collection

A specific sticking point for some commissioners was a proposal to move a driveway through a meadow between Castle Creek Road and the lodge.

“I can’t rock this aisle,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “It destroys the whole historic (feel) of this property.”

County commissioners also wanted the driveway to be gravel rather than paved.

“The paved roads look like housing estates and fancy stuff,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said, noting that the site is rural.

Loring said they needed to move the driveway and parking lot to create a courtyard with privacy from Castle Creek Road. She agreed to do whatever the county asked regarding the driveway material.

Commissioner Francie Jacober gave Loring credit for the concessions.

“If we really wanted to preserve this place as a museum, the county should have bought it,” Jacober said. “I think we have to be reasonable with what we ask private owners.”

No decision was made Wednesday, largely because the county needs to make sure the Aspen Fire Department approves aspects of the plan. Loring reluctantly agreed to gather his consultants for another commissioners’ meeting on June 8.

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