A plan to convert the Eldorado Springs Post Office building into a hostel for climbers has gotten some members of the small community up in arms.
The American Alpine Club (AAC) has the property under contract and plans to convert it into lodging for about 20 climbers visiting the famous cliff walls of Eldorado Canyon State Park.
“It would change the whole character of Eldorado Springs,” says Helene Jennings. “What will they do at night? We are a residential community.”
Jennings, who is part of a group that has gathered about 100 signatures on a petition opposing the move, says she is worried about parking and trespassing issues. She says the town is already overcrowded during the day, but there is a reprieve at night when the park and the historic Eldorado Springs pool are closed, and a hostel could end that respite.
She says correspondence between the club and residents in late May got off to a rocky start.
The residents’ initial May 27 letter, accompanied by the petition, lamented the lack of a public review process, but that will be triggered as the AAC goes through a county site plan review.
“Many of the Community members who are opposed to the Climbers’ Lodge hold AAC and its mission in high regard,” the letter states. “However, the extreme density of lodge guests on a very small lot, that would increase the population of Eldorado Springs townsite by at least 5 percent (10 percent according to 2010 census data), with inadequate parking to meet the Resort Lodge zoning requirement of 1.5 parking spaces per room, in a community already burdened by insufficient parking, is a very heavy price to pay. In addition, a sad consequence of AAC’s lack of engagement in a County review process providing for open disclosure and discussion of the facts surrounding your proposal, is that ‘debate’ within the Community about the ‘facts’ has resulted in significant angst, incivility and broken friendships in the Community.”
Christian Griffith, a prominent climber who operates a climbing clothes business in a section of the Post Office building, calls the club’s response to that letter “the most appalling, scathing, confrontational reply…”
In that reply, dated May 28, L. Penn Burris, the club’s director of operations/chief financial officer, writes, “It is truly disappointing that such questionable ethics and situational motives has been able to create so much community drama through the peddling of knowingly false information, inflammatory statements and blatant lies. The attached petition, while seemingly ‘signed’ by so many ‘concerned’ citizens, is purely the result of concentrated efforts to promote a self-serving, alternate agenda … as such it is barely worth the paper it is written on and certainly is incapable of capturing any real sense of the community.”
Burris adds in the letter that he and the club have been “thoughtful, respectful and transparent in every step of the process,” have attended community meetings and have started the process for a site plan review with the county. The effort will “repurpose a neglected building that has been used commercially for more than forty years,” he writes.
“While we respect the opinions and ideas of others, this shallow attempt to bully a small nonprofit organization, with nothing but good intentions and clearly serving the needs of others, has left us very much undeterred in our mission and plans,” Burris concluded. “Shame on you.”
“It got everyone really, really upset,” Griffith says of that letter. “It made it very clear they were used to getting their way.”
Burris declined to comment when contacted by Boulder Weekly, referring all questions to AAC Executive Director Phil Powers, who said neither he nor the club’s board saw or approved the letter beforehand.
“That letter was not a good moment for Penn or for the club,” he told BW. “The words that he used, the tone that he used, all I can say is I apologize for that. I think that was inappropriate.”
Powers says the deal on the property, located at 3330 Eldorado Springs Drive, includes a July 12 deadline that will require the club to make a financial commitment, although the July 24 closing date has been delayed. He says that even if the AAC commits that extra funding on July 12, it’s not guaranteed that the project will move forward — it depends on “if we can figure out the logistics and if we can agree the community relationship could be managed positively. There are a lot of ifs.”
Griffith says he’s not sure he’ll be able to keep his business there very long if the Alpine Club moves in, because it will likely need his space for rooms and bunks. He says that when he re-signed his lease a couple of months ago, it was short-term, for only six months.
“It’s a third of the building, so there’s no way they’ll let me stay there,” says Griffith, who served as a guest speaker at the club’s annual meetings 15 to 20 years ago.
Powers says that even if the club buys the property, creating the hostel is not a done deal and would take years to complete. In the meantime, he says, Griffith and the building’s other current occupants can stay. He even says plans call for preserving the Post Office space in the long term, beyond any renovation for the lodge.
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Griffith says a newer, affluent element in Eldorado Springs wants to “gentrify” the small, tight-knit community, and they favor creating the hostel as an adventure destination for the wealthy. But Griffith estimates that 80 percent of the community is opposed to the plan.
He acknowledges that many climbers agree there has long been a need in the town for proximate accommodations. He just insists that there is no room for it in Eldorado Springs.
“There’s also a need for a swimming pool on the Pearl Street Mall,” Griffith says. “But it’s already pretty maxed out, with the uses going on there.”
Griffith claims that there isn’t as much demand for a hostel as there used to be, since the number of climbers in the canyon has waned with the rise in popularity of bouldering and indoor climbing gyms.
“The demand is probably a fifth of what it was in the ’70s and ’80s,” he says.
Powers and Burris have attended a meeting of the Eldorado Springs Community Association, where Powers acknowledges saying that “if Eldorado Springs did not want us here, we would be hard-pressed to move forward with the project, and I still honestly believe that.” In addition, after Griffith contacted former club presidents he knows personally, Powers attended another community meeting, where he says some in the crowd of about 65 were sporting shirts reading “I’m not hostile, I’m anti-hostel.”
Griffith describes Eldorado Springs as an intimate community where everyone knows one another. It’s located at the “dead end” of a road, so no one is passing through at night unless they live there, he says, and the hostel would create a “transient community.” He worries about increased noise, an additional 20 people accessing the park and surrounding open space through private property, and the likely increase in drivers going out at night and returning after drinking. Traffic and parking are a concern as well, he says, citing the fact that the Post Office building is where the schoolbus turns around, and it’s where many community members park on snowy days, since that’s the terminus of a county road — and maintenance like snow removal. If those parking spaces are no longer available, Griffith says, residents will have to start parking along the roadside.
He also questions whether this is the best future use for Eldorado Springs’ only significant commercial building, citing a café or community workspace as more appealing options. In addition, Griffith points to the community’s relatively new sewer system as being another possible downside to having a hostel in town: The system is already nearing 80 percent of its capacity, at which point it has to be upgraded.
If the hostel is created, that threshold could be reached, and even if it’s not, it will severely curtail any future additions or expansions that existing homeowners may want to make.
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Powers acknowledges that some of the community’s concerns are valid, like the fear of having more strangers in town at night, but he says most of the issues can be overcome.
“I think they had really valid concerns about their town, and the way they experience their town, but the concerns they had were with the way they felt their town might change,” he explains. “They weren’t concerns about why the hostel was completely unacceptable. Now, that doesn’t mean their concerns are invalid, from my point of view. … I’m very, very sensitive to their concerns.”
In an interview, Powers addressed several of the issues mentioned by Griffith, such as the parking that has been available in front of the Post Office building.
“They said generally that lot is empty, so we can use it when we have parties, for overflow parking,” he recalls from one meeting. “Well that’s really nice, and that’s a great happenstance, but it happens to be someone else’s property.”
Powers acknowledges that the popularity of the park may have declined a bit over the past 30 years, but “it’s still one on a very short list of just extraordinary climbing destinations in the United States.”
He also says the club plans to get a stronger gauge of community support for the project — or lack thereof — during the county site plan review, a six-month process that just commenced.
“We’re going to have to buy it, if we do, without knowing if we passed that review,” he says.
Powers adds that the club will fully comply with the county’s requirements on how many parking spaces the hostel should have, and on how many bathrooms the sewer system can handle. As for harming that system’s ability to accommodate future growth, “that would be the same argument you could use against anyone in town who wanted to renovate their place. … Like it or not, America is built on property rights, and valuing and supporting those property rights.”
When asked about the possible impacts of trespassing and driving under the influence, he replies, “If they are trespassing, that’s against the law, and that should be dealt with. If they are driving to town and driving home drunk, well, that’s against the law, and that should be dealt with. I guess I don’t like the assumption that because these people are climbers, they will be law-breakers. I think that’s a bit of a stretch.”
Powers also notes that the club enforces quiet time and lights out after 10 p.m. at its lodging facilities.
And as for the argument that the building should be used for another purpose, like a café, he asks why market forces haven’t already elicited such an addition: “I guess my argument is, why hasn’t that happened yet?” The club has already paid to have a traffic study done on the impact of the hostel, and the results showed that the lodge would actually reduce traffic in the area, although Powers doesn’t place a lot of credence in the findings, since it’s still unclear how many climbers would walk into the park instead of drive.
“It’s hard to predict how individuals will behave,” says Powers, adding that Eldorado Canyon holds a special place in his heart because it was the destination of his first climbing trip, when he drove from Oklahoma to Colorado in the 1970s.
“That’s how I got started as a climber,” he says. “It was a special experience for me. It was the kind of experience we’re trying to provide for young climbers today.”