Aspen City Council in final stretch of moratorium talks |

Aspen City Council in final stretch of moratorium talks

Aspen City Council will resume talks today over sweeping policy changes to downtown development.

Council members on Monday mulled three of the six ordinances that would amend the municipal land-use code, but had not made a decision as of press time.

More than five hours were spent discussing policy changes to the city’s rules on buildings’ commercial design, their retail uses and standards, and various regulations. As of 10 p.m., the City Council was still weighing particulars of the proposed land-use code amendments.

The talks came as the city aims to match its land-use code with the Aspen Area Community Plan, a document that outlines the collective vision of the city’s residents for the architectural characteristics of the town, affordable housing, transportation and other quality-of-life elements.

The city began working on the overhaul after the council passed an emergency moratorium in March freezing the filing of land-use applications in commercial zone districts and some residential areas that allow commercial.

One of the prime areas of debate Monday was the city’s potential requirement for new commercial developments and redevelopments to allow only general retail in downtown buildings’ so-called second-tier spaces such as basements and second floors. Specialty retail would be only allowed on ground-level spaces, which command premium rents downtown.

By 9:50 p.m., the council had tentatively agreed to back off that proposal as it relates to downtown developments. Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Bert Myrin were in the minority, with council members Art Daily, Adam Frisch and Ann Mullins against the retail-use regulations.

General retail, by the city’s definition, would be stores that provide “consumer goods for normal personal or household use or consumption.”

By requiring new development to use those second-tier spaces for “general retail,” Aspen’s year-round, working-class population would be better served, proponents of the rule have contended.

Ground-level space, meanwhile, would be allowed to have specialty retail, which the city defines as involving the “sale of luxury or premium goods, products that are generally purchased on a non-recurring basis, and that tend to occupy spaces in more expensive locations. These include items where demand tends to increase as household income rises, or where demand increases in proportion to high prices.”

The city’s retail-use provision had not sat well with at least two landlords, Mark Hunt and the Souki family.

“Upon initial review of the proposed ordinances for changes to the Aspen Land Use Code, we at Ajax Holdings informed council, and the public, that we were unlikely to invest in the acquisition and redevelopment of commercial property within the city should those changes be implemented,” wrote Karim Souki on behalf of Ajax Holdings to the city. The letter was read to the council by Jessica Garrow, director of Community Development. “The revisions to the proposed ordinances, released Thursday, Jan. 19, only serve to reaffirm our position.”

Hunt, who owns 15 buildings in Aspen after acquiring them in the early to mid-2010s, said the use restrictions would be a deterrent to developers whose buildings have a basement or second floor.

“If it were up to me, I’d never build a second story or a basement,” he said, saying rental revenue from ground-level retailer wouldn’t offset the loss of having general retail in the building’s other spaces after paying the expenses associated with a redevelopment.

“If you’re digging a basement or adding a second floor, you’re just literally losing money,” he said.

Myrin argued that the retail-use limitations could actually work in the city’s favor by deterring new developments and redevelopments.

Other restrictions would include limiting buildings’ heights to 28 feet in the Commercial Core, Commercial 1 and Mixed-Use zone districts, with the floor-area ratios being reduced in those zones, as well. Free-market residential also would be prohibited.

The moratorium originally was scheduled to expire Feb. 28; the council will decide today whether to extend it until March 17.

The City Council will resume discussions at 5 p.m. today in the basement of City Hall.