ASPEN - A majority of council members two weeks ago indicated support for a new ordinance banning free-market residential development in the downtown area and putting an end to three-story buildings unless the top-floor use involves a commercial purpose such as office space or lodging.
On Monday night, a final vote on the ordinance was postponed until next year to give City Attorney Jim True time to study the legal ramifications of a new amendment offered by Mayor Mick Ireland that seeks to allow three-story developments on only the north side of a street.
Though some council members expressed favor at their Nov. 26 meeting for banning new three-story developments on the south sides of downtown streets, the Community Development Department staff warned that such a prohibition might not stand up in court, prompting Ireland's amendment and a desire to have True research the issue.
At the outset of Monday's discussion, long-range planner Jessica Garrow presented a revised ordinance that would allow three-story buildings on a street's south side as long as a 35-foot setback was incorporated.
"There was some interest (on Nov. 26) in banning all third floors on the south side of the street. Staff's concern is that doing that creates an unequal zoning structure. With the 35-foot setback, we think that it addresses your concerns related to visual impacts and shading and things like that," Garrow said.
Also under the revised ordinance presented Monday night, any third-floor addition would be limited to 50 percent of the size of the parcel on which the building is located. The staff kept intact the council's previous direction for a 28-foot height limit for all two-story buildings as well as a tweaking of the code that will reverse the first-floor prohibition on office space on the north side of Main Street.
After Ireland proposed his amendment - there was no vote on it - other council members agreed to continue the discussion at their Jan. 14 meeting.
In other business:
• Council members voted 4-1 to endorse the Elected Officials Transportation Committee expenditure of $125,000 for increased costs of design on the new pedestrian undercrossing between the Aspen Business Center area and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. The undercrossing is designed to improve the safety of pedestrians traversing between the airport and the business center as well as those who will use the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority's new bus rapid transit system. Before providing the lone "nay" vote, Councilman Torre questioned the reasons for the higher planning cost itself and also whether transportation committee funds should be used for what could be considered a Pitkin County responsibility. Ireland argued that the project benefits the city's residents as well as the county's. The committee consists of members of the council, Pitkin County commissioners and the Snowmass Village Town Council.
• The council unanimously approved a design and engineering contract, not to exceed $318,835, to Mills and Schnoering Architects LLC, of Princeton, N.J., a firm that specializes in historic-preservation projects. The company will guide the rehabilitation of the Wheeler Opera House balcony, for which $2.9 million has been included in the city's 2013 budget. The city has identified numerous problems with the balcony area, including audience discomfort (seats that are too small), antiquated projection technology and safety issues. Torre asked that the historic integrity of the building be maintained as he was "fearful for ultra-modernization." Wheeler executive director Gram Slaton responded that the protection of the opera house's historic character was a primary reason why Mills and Schnoering, with its expertise in the preservation arena, was chosen by the contract selection team.
• The council also voted 5-0 on a resolution providing policy direction on the city's sign code. An ordinance with specific code amendments will be brought to the council next year. Among other things, the new policy allows sandwich boards (for certain types of businesses) outside the downtown commercial districts, such as the mixed-use zoning area off Puppy Smith Street near Clark's Market. Previously, the sandwich boards outside businesses in that area were deemed illegal.