Aspen council opens door for Given Institute compromise
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Plans by a developer hoping to purchase the Given Institute property in Aspen’s West End from the University of Colorado and transform most of it into high-end residential lots got a lukewarm reception from the Aspen City Council on Monday.
The four councilmen and Mayor Mick Ireland told representatives of SC Acquisitions LLC that the proposal still doesn’t go far enough in preserving the Given Institute building and other sections of the 2.25-acre property for future use by the community or a nonprofit group, despite a few new concessions from the would-be developer.
Still, the dialogue was more positive than discussions during last Wednesday’s joint meeting of Aspen’s Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions. Both entities roundly criticized the project and recommended that the council deny the application to redevelop the property unless profound changes are made.
Changes that surfaced during Monday’s meeting included providing the city with time to find a buyer to purchase “Lot 2,” the quadrant of the property closest to Hallam Lake, for $5.5 million. Previously, SC Acquisitions wanted to develop three residential lots while only giving the city a one-year option to acquire or find a buyer for the “Lot 1” quadrant that contains the Given Institute building for $3.75 million.
If no buyer is found, the two lots – which community members have identified as being the most historically and aesthetically significant of the four – would revert to SC Acquisitions for residential development.
In addition to offering to sell two of the four lots to the city for nearly $10 million or giving the city one year to find a suitable buyer who would preserve them for community use, the developer is seeking numerous concessions from the city.
Those concessions include the granting of three transferable development rights (TDRs) on each residential lot, authorization to build duplexes on each lot instead of single-family homes, and the waiver of hundreds of thousands of dollars in development fees. The developer also is asking for waivers of design reviews and Hallam Lake Bluff setbacks, and wants to remove dozens of trees on the property.
Councilman Dwayne Romero told attorney Bart Johnson and land-use planner Mitch Haas, the two SC Acquisitions representatives, that their plans were too complex. He said he would like to see a cleaner, more straightforward deal, one that doesn’t include so many variances from city building codes and fee waivers.
Romero also suggested that the developer, who has an option to buy the land from CU for about $14 million, find suitable groups who will purchase and preserve Lots 1 and 2 so that the city is not pressured with the task.
Ireland agreed that the plans should be simplified, saying the developer was “hanging so many ornaments on this tree it’ll collapse under its own weight.”
However, like Romero, he opened the door for continued negotiations, saying the city and the developer appear to be moving closer to compromise. He also acknowledged that the approval process has not been easy for Johnson and Haas.
“It’s been rough,” Ireland said. “The public perception (of the project) has not been a fond one.”
Council members asked SC Acquisitions to return to the city with a new plan before the next regular council meeting on Feb. 14. A special meeting might be held on Feb. 7 just to deal with the Given Institute proposal.
Johnson said he would have to speak with his client about the council’s desires. He said the client has no animosity over criticism voiced by public officials. The individual heading SC Acquisitions has yet to be publicly named.
Because CU has set a deadline to sell the property, Johnson said SC Acquisitions might have to ask for an extension from the university to allow more time for negotiations with the city.
As to statements by councilmen that the two sides are near to a deal, Johnson said, “I can’t speak on whether we’re close or not.”
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