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Mollie Aspen will get polyester tent audition through 2024

Rick Carroll, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
The Mollie Aspen received permission from Aspen City Council to install a temporary tent on its rooftop deck for up to 39 days through the end of the year. Jason Charme/Aspen Daily News

It wasn’t a tent revival Tuesday night, but the Aspen City Council managed to revive a tent proposal.

A 5-0 vote by council members allowed Aspen’s newest hotel, Mollie Aspen, to install a third-level, rooftop-deck patio tent on a special-use basis through the end of 2024. The council granted the hotel use of the tent, roughly 540 square feet, for up to 39 days through Dec. 31. Days spent setting up and breaking down the tent structure count toward that total.

The compromise the council hatched with the Mollie ownership, represented by planner Mitch Haas, was in response to a denial recommendation from city planners, who said the proposal was out of character with the historic district. The Mollie, which opened in December at the corner of Garmisch and Main streets, is part of the Main Street Historic District.

The denial recommendation, however, concerned Mollie’s proposal seeking approval for the ability to have temporary use of a tent up to 75 days annually for five years, with a five-year extension. The council didn’t have enough votes to approve that proposal for that length of time, but they were open to trying it out through the year’s end to see how it goes.

“It’s merely a tent that would provide protection for the uses that are already allowed,” Haas told the council. The tent would be used for special events like weddings, he said.

If the tent’s audition through the end of the year goes well — few or no neighborhood complaints, for example — then the special-use privileges could be extended, the council agreed.

The Community Development Department’s Ben Anderson and Sophie Varga, in both a memo and their remarks to the council, said their denial recommendation was informed by staff concerns that about the increased use on the roof deck and its impacts on the neighborhood — like noise — and the potential for privatization of lodge amenity space during use of the tent. They also said the material being used for the tent — laminated polyester — didn’t meet the Main Street Historic District’s guidelines that materials can be primarily wood or brick.

“Laminated polyester does not have proven durability and weathering characteristics within Aspen’s climate. The tent is beige, a neutral color. Staff finds the criterion not met,” the memo said.

Varga emphasized that point: “Laminated polyester does not fulfill these requirements,” she told the council.

Haas said he was perplexed by their reasoning. He said that the hotel’s ground-level space is part of the hotel’s public amenity space as required by approvals that did not include the the building’s upper levels; the rooftop deck’s use would not change with the tent; and it would be impractical if not impossible to to use wood and brick for a temporary tent structure.

“It’s not like some bought-on-Amazon tent is being proposed,” he said, adding that brick and wood aren’t tent materials.

Anderson, who is director of Community Development, said it might be time to update the codes that were approved decades ago, but that they were following what’s in front of them.

“Staff couldn’t identify any Council approvals to erect temporary structures within the Main Street Historic District within the past ten years,” said the memo from Anderson and Varga.

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in new approaches to dining: The city gave some restaurants flexibility to use tents outdoors to maximize their business potential with limited seating due to public health orders. After May 1, 2022, however, the city stopped the practice of permitting restaurants to erect temporary enclosures like tents, subjecting them to a similar review Mollie underwent.

“This conversation has changed so much over the years,” Torre said. “Tent availability, tent usability have changed so much … we are relying on a code that’s decades old in this department. Yes, COVID definitely brought it to the forefront, but it’s also a discussion we’re seeing with restaurants and other outdoor private properties.”

Haas submitted a land-use application in January for the temporary use of a tent and a revised one in April after getting recommendation from the Community Development Department. Even so, Anderson said the proposal didn’t have much of a chance out the gate.

“I think on this particular application, we had lots of conversations about this — this is a building that was recently built … and we have been very clear about recommending denial” with proposals in the historic district that don’t meet its guidelines.

The tent proposed by Mollie will stand 13 feet, 9 inches high, 23 feet wide and 23 feet, 4 inches deep. City officials also expressed concern about the height.

Courtesy of the Aspen Daily News