Affordable housing developers appeal denial of Aspen project
Aspen City Council to review the city’s Historic Preservation Commission vote, and will discuss how much authority it should have
The developers of a proposed affordable housing project are appealing last month’s denial of their proposal by the city of Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The appeal filed by Jim DeFrancia and Jean Coulter to the city means that the HPC’s Feb. 17 meeting will be reviewed by City Council, which could overturn the 3-1 vote to reject the proposal.
After listening to hours of public comment mostly from neighbors who oppose the project at two public hearings in January and February, HPC members denied the five-unit housing complex located at 1020 E. Cooper Ave. citing that it was too dense.
That’s despite that the project meets all requirements of the land-use code and is under the allowable square footage that can be built there.
“I was shocked,” DeFrancia said of HPC’s vote. “When you file an application that is fully compliant, it meets the code, it follows the Aspen Area Community Plan and fits in with public policy, what’s not to like?”
Nearby residents of the property said in their public comments they were concerned the residents of the units, local qualified workers, would disrupt the neighborhood with noise, trash and pot smoking, to name a few objections.
They asked for a smaller project with fewer people.
“The public comments were preposterous,” DeFrancia said. “There were ridiculous judgments about the character of the people living there.”
Council is limited to reviewing the record of the Feb. 17 HPC meeting, which includes public comments, HPC member discussion and documents displayed as part of the presentation, according to City Attorney Jim True.
“An appeal to council is based on the existing record so there will not be any public comment,” he said regarding the April 13 review.
DeFrancia said he believes he and his partner will prevail because the project meets the city’s land-use code.
HPC members who voted against the project, Roger Moyer and Scott Kendrick said the building behind the historic miner’s cabin in the front of the lot was too large and they preferred a smaller structure.
That building is proposed to have two two-bedroom apartments and one three-bedroom apartment, with four covered parking spaces facing the alley.
The miner’s cabin would be converted into a two-bedroom apartment, as well as a three-bedroom unit.
Jeff Halferty was the sole HPC member who voted in favor of the project, saying it meets the land-use code and the historic resource is being protected.
HPC member Kara Thompson voted to deny the project seeing that a “yes” vote would result in a deadlock 2-2 vote. By voting “no” it could advance the project to the appeal process.
DeFrancia and Coulter, through their land planner Sara Adams, had already reduced the height of the back building, reduced the floor area, reconfigured the units and increased the set back in the front yard by 1.5 feet in response to comments made during HPC’s Jan. 13 meeting.
Under the city’s code, council can “call up” an HPC decision and make recommendations back to the all citizen appointed board, but they cannot overturn a vote.
But an appeal process does allow for a decision to be overturned.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein said last week during council’s regular meeting that he wants to re-examine the jurisdiction and authority that HPC has.
It’s an issue that he has brought up in the past but didn’t get council support in pursuing a possible change in policy and the land-use code.
But this time around, he did get support from a majority of council to at least have a conversation about it.
Although he did not cite the 1020 E. Cooper Ave. project, Hauenstein did point to another decision by HPC to allow developer Mark Hunt to not replace on-site employee housing in the building he plans to redevelop at 517 E. Hopkins Ave.
HPC members agreed to let Hunt skirt the municipal code requiring him to build on-site housing because they said his proposed tenant, an unidentified global shared workspace company, was enough benefit to the community that deed-restricted apartments were OK elsewhere.
The 2018 decision went against the recommendations of the local housing board and the city’s Community Development Department that apartments should be on the second floor of the redeveloped building.
“I just don’t think that’s right for an appointed board,” Hauenstein said.
Council members agreed to have a future conversation about HPC’s role.
“I wholeheartedly agree with Ward’s evaluation of the problem statement. I see a lot of stuff coming out of HPC that I don’t love the outcome of,” said council member Skippy Mesirow. “I don’t agree on the solution statement of stripping final authority, but I do support this conversation assuming it’s not a conversation to nowhere.”