Aspen codes pose obstacles for infill |

Aspen codes pose obstacles for infill

Janet Urquhart

If Aspen wants to ease its affordable housing shortage with so-called “infill housing,” some changes in the demands it makes of developers are in order, according to a task force looking at the concept.

The community group has been working with city planner Chris Bendon since July to identify places around town that are ripe for redevelopment.

Bendon will take their initial conclusions to the Aspen City Council today at a 4 p.m. work session. The group wants direction from the council as it pushes forward with work that is expected to produce a new ordinance regulating infill development. Bendon’s time line calls for adoption of the ordinance next April.

While the concept of infill – housing units tucked here and there around Aspen’s core – has seen increased lip service lately as one solution to the town’s shortage of worker housing, the task force is taking a broader look at infill’s potential.

For starters, the group is looking at more than just the downtown core. It has tackled the area bounded by Aspen Mountain, the Roaring Fork River and Castle Creek – basically, all portions of town where the traditional grid street layout exists.

And, added task force member Steve Seyffert, the group is looking at more than just housing.

“Certainly, housing is an important aspect of the infill concept, but we’re not limiting ourselves to housing,” he said.

Infill development may mean affordable commercial and office space, as well, Bendon said. It also could mean housing that a business owner elects to add to a building. The units would be tied to the business, for use by employees as the business owner who builds them sees fit, he said.

To make such development happen though, the city needs to change rules that currently make such projects impossible, according to Bendon.

“The question is, how can we change our zoning code, our development review process . to get, not just affordable housing, but more development in town,” he said.

City codes have evolved to prevent development the city doesn’t want instead of taking a more proactive approach, according to Bendon.

“Instead of preventing bad things from happening, how do we encourage good things to happen?” he said.

That may mean loosening up the city’s requirements for providing parking and affordable housing with the redevelopment of a commercial building, relaxing height limitations and on-site open space requirements, and not putting developers through the kind of unpleasant scrutiny that is often the norm for redevelopment proposals, according to Bendon’s memo to the council.

The city could review the rules for infill projects and let projects that meet those rules proceed without council review, according to the memo.

And, if the city expects the private sector to step forward with infill projects, there must be a financial incentive, Bendon stressed.

“There needs to be a reasonable expectation of profit – that concept is critical to the success of the infill program,” he said.

As an example, Bendon points to the one-story Galena Street building where The Gap is located. About half of the floor area allowed in that spot exists now, but redevelopment under existing codes would produce a 10-story building, he said. Such a structure would include employee housing and be surrounded by surface parking.

Putting the housing and required parking off-site would mean a $4 million upfront expenditure, Bendon said.

The existing land-use code essentially makes any redevelopment of such sites both physically and financially impossible, Bendon noted, though they may be ideal locales for infill development.

“It’s conceivable we could get a few hundred [housing] units out of a successful infill program,” he said.

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