Aspen City Council begins land-use revision talks |

Aspen City Council begins land-use revision talks

Aspen City Council on Tuesday launched the first in a complex set of discussions in their attempt to align the land-use code with the Aspen Area Community Plan.

The council’s work session, held with members of the Community Development Department, comes after the elected officials passed legislation last month banning the filing of applications for development projects within all of the city’s commercial zones.

City leaders have limited time. The freeze on land-use applications expires Feb. 28.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Community Development Director Jessica Garrow solicited feedback from council members on free-market residential uses in the commercial zones.

The moratorium in part was passed because city leaders feared that an increasing number of free-market residential projects are penetrating the mixed-use and neighborhood-commercial zones. The city outlawed free-market residences, such as penthouses, in the downtown core in 2012.

Garrow noted that downtown penthouses began to sterilize the core because some of the owners would buy the property beneath them but not lease them to commercial entities. She noted the same trend is unfolding in the mixed-use and neighborhood-commercial zones on the outskirts of downtown.

“We have some very blatant examples where buildings with commercial space are left vacant for a very long time, and the free-market residential is being used and the commercial space can be left vacant,” she said. “It has really negatively impacted the downtown pedestrian experience.”

Garrow presented the council with five options to curb the trend in the mixed-use and neighborhood-commercial zones.

One of the more popular choices among council members was to ban the development of future free-market residential in the mixed-use, neighborhood commercial and service-commercial-industrial districts. Affordable housing, however, could be built in certain scenarios, council members said.

Another option that also caught on with council members was to allow residential to be built as a separate structure on the same property occupied by a commercial building.

“Anything we can do to provide more commercial space and allow people to open a business by not displacing them with free-market residential is top of mind for me,” Councilman Bert Myrin said.

The process will be arduous, Garrow and council members acknowledged. Councilwoman Ann Mullins said it’s simply too early to make any decisions at this point.

“We just really wanted to start the conversation tonight,” Garrow said, explaining that every amendment to the land-use code will require three hearings.

The land-use talks continue April 18 when the city tackles parking. Commercial design is the topic for a May 2 work session.

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