While providing input for the writing of Aspen’s lodging ordinance, the Aspen City Council on Monday supported the idea of allowing four-story buildings in certain areas of the town’s lodging district.
After all five members of the council had a chance to speak on the issue, consensus was to cautiously support height variation in limited circumstances. Councilwoman Ann Mullins supported the idea on a case-by-case basis, which the majority of council agreed with. She also said the city will need to limit ceiling heights for each floor, though specifics were not discussed.
Prior to Monday’s work session, the city held an open house, where visitors expressed that four-story lodges might be appropriate closer to Aspen Mountain, south of Durant Avenue, but not in city neighborhoods where two-story structures are common, long range planner Jessica Garrow told the council.
Council member Adam Frisch said that though he’s not trying to stir things up, he can think of a few specific locations where a four-story structure could work: near the Little Nell, the existing Sky Hotel structure and the City Market parking lot.
“I don’t see 30 different buildings in town 10 years from now having a fourth floor,” he said. “I think there’s only a couple places left to build a big lodge, as is.”
He noted that there are about 12 lodges in quasi-residential neighborhoods, where he said four stories might not be realistic. He pointed out that the Hotel Aspen redevelopment, a West End project that calls for about “2.7 to three floors,” is struggling to find community support.
“I can also think of a few places in town where this is going to be appropriate,” said Councilman Art Daily. “But I think in those places where it is, let’s not preclude. Let’s perhaps even encourage it because I think it will help the program we are trying to incentivize.”
The lodging incentive program, which city planners began working on in the Fall of 2012, will serve as the framework for increasing and upgrading Aspen’s short-term bed base, which has been identified as one of the city’s top 10 goals.
Daily said he cautiously supports height variation but visual impacts need to be considered. Council member Dwayne Romero said it was a pretty straightforward issue: Four-story structures should be allowed, but only if there are compelling reasons.
Mayor Steve Skadron asked what the zoning alternatives are for lodges. He posed the question in part, he said, because there is a lot of pressure for Aspen’s public officials to sell out for short-term gain.
“Can a lodge, in fact, be torn down and a single-family home be put there on all the upcoming 15 or 20 applications that we’re going to see?” he asked. “Or was that just the case for one or two? Because if in fact there is no zoning alternative, I’d suggest a different equation that council can subscribe to.”
The council also gave input on size limitations of lodge units, free-market residential units and vacation-rental units. For all three, the majority of the council supported retaining or creating size limitations. For free-market units, staff recommended limiting unit-size caps to 1,500 square feet, while allowing an increase to 2,500 square feet with the landing of transferrable development rights.
Romero said that in his experience, it’s pretty clear that the larger the lodging unit, the more likely it is to be pulled off the short-term rental market. Without a unit-size cap, he said, “we could watch these things pop right back up to 5,000-footers, and last time I checked, at the price point we’re talking about, that would suggest somebody that’s not so worried about the benefit of having rental income.”
The goal of the lodging incentive program is to upgrade and expand Aspen’s bed base so that it can continue competing with newer ski resorts, such as Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs. At the start of the meeting, Garrow said that while Aspen certainly can’t control what other resorts are doing, it can control its own bed base by responding to demand.