Aspen City Council to draft variance language

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen will move forward with drafting a code amendment that, if approved, could limit land-use variance requests, the Aspen City Council decided Monday.

The council opted against crafting a Home Rule Charter amendment, which could have potentially advanced to May’s election in a showdown with a charter amendment resident Bert Myrin is seeking.

Myrin has been soliciting signatures since Friday for a petition that aims to strip the council of its ability to grant variances on height, floor area, affordable housing and parking. As proposed, any council-granted variance would be subject to Aspen-voter approval. Myrin will need to garner 304 signatures by Feb. 4 to advance the question to the ballot, though he would have an additional 15 days if he comes up short.

On Monday, Councilwoman Ann Mullins described Myrin’s amendment proposal as a “black and white” option and lobbied the city to draft a more flexible option.

If Myrin advanced the question to the ballot and it passed, any code amendment the city passes in the meantime would become moot.

Mayor Steve Skadron argued adamantly that the city charter is no place to decide land-use issues, calling Myrin’s proposal a “defacto moratorium.” He argued that not all development is bad and blamed unfavorable structures in Aspen on infill, a controversial package of zoning amendments passed in the early 2000s.

“There are times when some consideration for a development requires a variation,” Skadron said. “(Myrin’s) charter motion is a one-size-fits-all fix that fails to recognize site-specific needs that will result in this town becoming Vail because it will be monotony.”

Though at first Councilman Dwayne Romero said any city action on the issue might disturb the quality of the question Myrin is posing, he later agreed with Mullins that an alternative option might allow the community to be better-informed.

Councilman Adam Frisch compared Myrin’s petition to neutering public officials, while Councilman Art Daily urged the city to take the opportunity to see if the land-use code can be updated.

Soliciting signatures after the discussion, Myrin noted a local distrust of public officials, which Skadron alluded to earlier. Citing the council’s negotiations on the recent Hotel Aspen application and developer Mark Hunt’s decision to put one of his lodge concepts on hold, Skadron said the current council is doing a good job upholding the integrity of the land-use code. Myrin argued that all recent councils have let the community down, and he asked why this one should be considered any different.