Annie’s, Benton buildings before Aspen council again |

Annie’s, Benton buildings before Aspen council again

Aspen Times staff report
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting will feature another discussion – as well as a public hearing – on a development proposal involving the Little Annie’s and Benton buildings in the 500 block of East Hyman Avenue.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. in the basement of City Hall at 130 S. Galena St. Negotiations with the proposed developer, Aspen Core Ventures LLC, are last on the agenda and could run late into the evening.

In a 4-1 vote during a special meeting Feb. 6, council members approved the introduction of an ordinance that calls for preservation of the Little Annie’s structure, renovations to the Benton Building and construction of a new, three-story, mixed-use building on the nearby empty lot at the corner of East Hyman Avenue and South Hunter Street. Only Mayor Mick Ireland voted to oppose the introduction of the ordinance.

In exchange for restoring the Benton Building and not tearing down the Annie’s building – thereby preserving them under the city’s new AspenModern program – the owner-developer wants the city to approve plans that require less expensive mitigation for affordable housing required by the project. Aspen Core Ventures wants approval for two free-market residential units, one small and one large, in the new building, which would be a blend of retail, commercial and residential space.

Approval of an ordinance on first reading is not necessarily an indication that the council will support the ordinance when it comes up for final adoption. Typically, a proposal gets unanimous support at first reading as a simple courtesy to the applicant and to take the discussion to the next level.

Though discussions on the issue continue Monday, a vote for or against final adoption is not expected.

Little Annie’s restaurant, which opened in 1972, and the building in which it is housed are considered landmarks by some Aspenites, as is the Benton Building. Some observers cried foul last year when Aspen Core Ventures proposed to demolish the two buildings to make way for a new structure.

Ireland said the city has not fully explored the question of whether the Annie’s building is historically significant and therefore worthy of concessions the city might give the developer in exchange for preserving the buildings.

Last year, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission deemed that the Benton Building, built in 1963 by the late architect-artist Thomas W. Benton, had historical value and should be preserved. It did not give the same vote of confidence to the significance of the Annie’s building.

The developer initially sought a waiver of affordable-housing mitigation requirements for 29 full-time employees. Under a new proposal, the number of employees who would be housed by the development has been recalculated to nine by city Community Development Department staff. The math involved in the reduction led Ireland to voice a few concerns at last week’s meeting.

Following recent negotiations with two council members and city staff, Aspen Core Ventures has agreed to provide one off-site residential unit to cover 1.75 full-time employees generated by the development and to pay a little more than $1 million as “cash in lieu” of providing other housing options for the equivalent of another 7.25 full-time employees generated by the project.

The developer previously planned a single, 7,500-square-foot, free-market penthouse for the top of the new building. That proposal has changed, and he’s now seeking two units that would total 8,950 square feet of floor area: a penthouse at 6,950 square feet and another unit on the second floor at 2,000 square feet.