City tackles pace of construction | AspenTimes.com

City tackles pace of construction

Abigail Eagye

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN As the end of a 10-month building moratorium draws near, the Aspen City Council is honing in on ways to control the pace of development.At a work session Tuesday night, Community Development Director Chris Bendon tried to break down a multitude of separate but inextricably linked issues contributing to citizen frustration over the number of construction projects going on at one time.To control pace, the city must address two types of projects: those that were already in the pipeline before the moratorium and those that haven’t yet begun the approval process.”Those [pipeline] projects themselves might represent two years worth of pacing,” Bendon said.Bendon likened the problem to a sink that is already full with a backlog of pipeline projects (which some called projects in “purgatory”). New projects continue to flow into the sink as they are approved. That means the sink must drain at a pace equal or faster to projects flowing in.”What worries me is that the sink might be at capacity,” he said.Councilman Torre agreed.”I, personally, think the sink is full,” he said. “It’s been full. That’s why we went into the moratorium.”That means that whenever the city lifts the moratorium, it must have pacing controls in place to avoid the sink overflowing before it can handle the current backlog of projects.Future projectsBendon’s staff presented several processes for controlling the pace of construction.The city already has some controls in place. Its Growth Management Quota System puts some checks on growth by requiring projects to include affordable housing if they add residential square footage (such as free-market condos) or if they generate new employees (such as new commercial or lodging developments).Currently, the city allows the construction of only a certain number of affordable housing mitigation units per year for each type of development.According to planner Jennifer Phelan, that means a project could earn all its other approvals but be denied because there are no more allotments. That in itself limits the number of projects at the approval level.Part of the problem, Phelan said, is that allotments are currently doled out on a first-to-apply, first-to-receive basis.One facet the Community Development Department proposed was implementing some sort of objective scoring system for projects that earn approval. Those with the highest scores would be first in line to receive allotments.Several council members liked the idea of the objective system – based on criteria such as the amount of affordable housing, green building, desirable lodge units and other elements the city has identified as goals – because it would create an incentive for developers to create projects that do more than meet the bare minimum of city requirements. Different proposals would compete against each other (within a set time frame), Phelan said, which could create even more of an incentive to present the best project possible.The allotments would continue to limit the amount of growth in the city, to a certain degree, but wouldn’t address the pace in terms of the number of projects being built simultaneously.So after the doling out of allotments, there might be another level of approval, perhaps through a lottery system, that would determine which projects receive building permits. The city could control the pace at which it gives out the permits and control pace of construction that way.The details of such a system remain to be worked out, as the council asked Bendon and Phelan to come back with more information before making a decision.Among the issues in question was whether redevelopment projects such as single-family homes and duplexes would be included in the pacing system. The current moratorium doesn’t prohibit those projects, but several members of the public at Tuesday’s meeting said there’s a general feeling of uncertainty among homeowners, especially those who have lived in Aspen for some time, over whether they’ll be able to “scrape and replace” dilapidated homes. It’s of particular concern to those considering retirement, because for many of them, their homes are their largest financial assets, and whether they can redevelop in a timely fashion might affect the value of the home.Mayor Helen Klanderud was the most receptive to the idea that the city needed to work to protect that part of the community.”A significant ingredient in the character of this community is its people,” she said, adding that she would like to “put that to rest as quickly as possible” to give the people in question a sense of security.Councilman Jack Johnson, who appeared frustrated by the conversation, reminded the public that Tuesday’s discussion was about the pace of those projects, not whether they would be allowed.Projects in purgatoryConfounding the discussion was the issue of the pipeline projects, some of which have earned all their approvals and are waiting only for building permits, which they cannot receive until the moratorium is lifted.Others are still trying to earn approvals, but because they submitted applications before the moratorium, they are under review under the code provisions that existed when the applications were filed.That raised the question of whether new regulations to control pace could be applied to those projects, particularly those with vested rights.Torre asked Bendon to return with scenarios for some of the half dozen or so projects waiting in limbo.The council made no formal decisions Tuesday night but directed the staff to return with more information about the backlogged and residential projects in question.The council will meet again Jan. 29.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com

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