Aspen City Council approves development-request caps
The Aspen Times
A land-use code change that will limit developers’ requests on height, floor area and affordable-housing mitigation won 5-0 Aspen City Council approval Monday night.
As approved, the changes will cap variance requests at 2 feet above allowable height and 5 percent above allowable floor area, without the option of subjecting greater requests to a public vote. Additionally, applicants — excepting government entities and historic landmarks — will no longer have the option to request reductions in affordable-housing mitigation. The alteration did not include any changes to parking-request procedures.
The code amendment is a direct response to resident Bert Myrin’s “Keep Aspen, Aspen” campaign, a proposed Home Rule Charter amendment that, if approved in May, would strip the council of its ability to grant variances on floor area, height, parking and affordable housing without a public vote.
Mayor Steve Skadron said he never thought he would be sitting in agreement over such a change with Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Adam Frisch.
“What you’re seeing here tonight is perhaps the most significant tightening of the land-use code ever in the city,” Skadron said.
Recounting Aspen history, Skadron cited the scaling back of infill in the late 2000s, saying that most of what’s being built in the downtown today is a result of the controversial set of land-use code amendments. He called Monday’s code change a further step to preserve historic character and built environment.
Frisch wasn’t entirely in agreement with Skadron, as he suggested against limiting the affordable-housing guidelines.
“My issue is that I would still like to see the housing discussion go away like the parking discussion,” Frisch said. “Approving this assumes or validates that (the city) has housing mitigation needed for all cases, all times.”
Future councils should have the same discretion previous councils have had concerning housing mitigation, he added.
“I don’t have a problem tying the hands of community regarding (floor area) or bulk and mass and height, but I have an issue on the housing,” Frisch said.
While Skadron said he can appreciate the argument that the housing change could result in burdensome reform, it didn’t sway his support for the code change as is.
Romero, president of developer Related Colorado, also supported the code change as proposed, saying it’s reflective of the past few years under the current council.
“Coming from the development side in my day job, my heart and my head can get behind this, and I think this is where the community wants to be,” Romero said. “And I don’t support having these dramatic changes appear in the (Home Rule) Charter.”
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said affordable housing and parking trends are headed in two separate directions.
“I think the parking needs and requirements of the town are going to change dramatically in the next 20 years,” Mullins said. “Housing requirements are just going to increase, so I think they’re very different situations we’re talking about.”
At the request of Skadron, senior planner Jessica Garrow responded to the criticism from Myrin’s camp that the code change will essentially equate to upzoning of downtown. His side has argued that every developer will now ask for two more feet and five percent more floor area.
Garrow said variance requests add a level of scrutiny in the approval process, as they would trigger council review in addition to Planning and Zoning Commission review.
“We think it’s not going to become the base ask, given the length and time that review process would take,” Garrow said.
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