ASPEN - A 10-month-old Aspen City Council debate over downtown building heights was finally settled on Monday night as council members voted 4-1 to keep all new developments to 28 feet, or two stories, while only allowing a third floor for lodging units and related uses, such as a restaurant.
In addition, three-story projects can only be built on the north sides of streets in the downtown area, which is composed of the commercial core and commercial districts. Also, a third story can be built only at half the size of the lower building's footprint unless the council by special discretion decides to allow 100 percent.
The new rules ban any new free-market residential development in the two districts. The final decision, which came at the 11:10 p.m. mark of a meeting that started at 5 p.m., was an amended version of the second of three options presented by Community Development Department staff.
Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilmen Steve Skadron, Torre and Adam Frisch voted in the affirmative. Councilman Derek Johnson voted against the ordinance, suggesting that it was too restrictive and disagreeing with the general premise shared by Ireland and Torre that free-market residential units are unhealthy for downtown vitality.
The debate came down to some small differences between Torre and Skadron, both of whom are considering mayoral bids this spring. Torre wanted to allow third-story uses that went beyond lodging, such as office space or some other commercial activity. Skadron wanted strict 28-foot restrictions with no options for third stories. Ireland forged the compromise, pointing out that their stances on the issue weren't that far apart.
Frisch, while not enamored of any of the three options, went along with the Ireland compromise, saying that it basically moves the community in the right direction and can be changed at a later time. He pointed out that several development applications for three-story projects with free-market components already are moving through the government approval process, having beaten April's temporary council decision to limit all new developments to 28 feet.
At the meeting's outset, the city's Community Development Department provided three options for council consideration:
• Allowing three-story development in the commercial core and commercial districts but limiting all third stories to 50 percent of a parcel's size and limiting their uses to lodging, commercial and affordable-housing uses. A third-story setback of 35 feet from the property line would be instituted for all developments on south sides of streets. No free-market residential would have been allowed.
• Allowing three-story developments in both districts but only on properties on the north side of a street. Any property on the south side of a street would be limited to 28 feet, thereby ensuring that they are no more than two stories. As in the first option, all third stories would be limited to 50 percent of a parcel's size and only for lodging, commercial and affordable-housing uses. No free-market residential development would have been allowed.
"While this option is legally defensible, staff remains concerned that simply banning south-side development creates inequity and confusion within the zone district," a memorandum from long-range planner Jessica Garrow states.
• Keeping what has been in place since April: All development in both districts would have been limited to 28 feet. A change to that policy would have been the prohibition of any new free-market residential uses.