Aspen council OKs Boomerang housing development
ASPEN – The debate over the controversial Boomerang affordable housing complex is largely over.By a 3-2 vote Monday night, the Aspen City Council approved the project, ending more than nine months of lengthy public hearings and spirited discourse among opponents, the development group and city officials.Councilmen Steve Skadron and Torre represented the minority, while Mayor Mick Ireland and councilmen Derek Johnson and Adam Frisch provided the support needed to green-light plans after more than two hours devoted to the topic at the council’s regular meeting. At first, it appeared that the drive to push the 40-unit project ahead might hit a snag when last-minute plans surfaced that were not part of the proposed ordinance released Thursday. Those plans, which city Community Development Department staff wrote, dealt with a section detailing rules for a pre-sales effort that would have allowed local employers to purchase some of the units and then rent or sell them to workers in need of housing.Confusion over the late addition to the ordinance led opponents – most of them neighbors of the development site on West Hopkins Avenue – to ask for yet another delay in the process.They charged that the new section meant a lack of due process, given that they hadn’t time to study its details.But developer Steve Stunda said the new section wasn’t something he was tied to, and the issue was resolved by omitting it and scrapping plans for a pre-sales initiative that would allow employers to rent some of the units.That didn’t stop the neighbors from attacking the project in other ways. Steve Goldenberg, who has been one of the most outspoken critics, brought up the development’s size, calling it a “monolith” and a “battleship.” The size issue had already been hashed out at previous meetings, particularly on July 11, when council members gave tentative approval to Stunda’s plans.Others questioned whether the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority and the Boomerang’s homeowners association would be able to enforce a plan to make five of the units “car-free” as part of the city’s goal of reducing local use of vehicles.That issue appeared to be resolved when Chris Bendon, Aspen’s community development director, and APCHA executive director Tom McCabe said the city’s parking department could enforce the rule adequately with assistance from APCHA. Therefore, an owner of one of the car-free units who lied after signing the purchase documents for the deed-restricted unit, and kept a car in the city, would to lose the home.”If they get busted and lose the unit, that’s a pretty good deterrent” to ignoring the rules, McCabe said.At the behest of council, P&Z commissioners and neighbors, Stunda’s project has gone through several changes and downsizings. The initial plan last year called for more than 50 units and a single four-story building. The plan approved Monday allows 40 units covering about 39,000 square feet, broken up into three buildings, with two three-story buildings and one building using part of the old Boomerang Lodge.Two weeks ago, neighbors presented a plan for smaller buildings with 32 units covering about 30,000 square feet of living space. After hours of debate, Ireland recessed that meeting and asked both supporters and proponents to meet elsewhere in City Hall to work out a compromise between the two plans.Some neighbors said Monday that they weren’t part of any compromise talks, which involved Stunda’s architect, attorney and city planning staff. However, Charles Cunniffe, the architect for the development, disagreed with that assessment and said they included some neighbors.Also at the council’s urging on July 11, Stunda agreed to work with APCHA to give half of the 40 units a Category 4 designation while the other half would be Category 3, which are less expensive. Previously, most of the units were to be Category 4.Before voting, Johnson acknowledged that the process “went off the rails a little bit” with the confusion over the late addition of a section to the ordinance involving pre-sales. But he noted that it was essentially the same plan the council approved July 11.”I’m not in favor of sending this back to P&Z,” he said, referring to one opponent’s suggestion.Torre said he supports affordable housing but agreed with neighbors that the overall project is too big, while the units are too small. Still, he complimented Stunda and Cunniffe for making numerous changes over size and design, and expressed support for the concept of car-free units.”But, I had asked for more changes … my biggest issue is the sheer density of this project,” Torre said. “I think that livability will suffer slightly. But I think that even though it is affordable housing, that no neighborhood deserves the kinds of impacts that a project of this nature can bring to it.”Stunda already had city approval, which he obtained in 2006, for a much larger lodge building on the site. The weakened economy and the city’s creation of a financial incentive program for private developers who build affordable housing led his group to change their plans for the property, which lies between Fourth and Fifth streets on West Hopkins Avenue, next to a pedestrian firstname.lastname@example.org
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