Aspen council rejects Wienerstube plan
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” After two years of review and several design iterations, the owners of the Wienerstube building have been denied their redevelopment plans.
The Aspen City Council on Monday voted 3-0 to deny a subdivision approval for the 18,000-square-foot property. The primary reason for the denial was the three-story building was out of character with the area and was too tall ” two major points neighbors have been arguing for months.
While developers say the project meets city regulations, the council said it doesn’t meet the Aspen Area Community Plan, a driving force behind the land-use code that refers to development fitting in with a neighborhood.
“Fit, scale, context and neighborhood … these aren’t just buzz words,” said Councilman Dwayne Romero. “There is some science behind it.”
The majority of the building’s height was about 38 feet, but most other buildings in the area are two stories and under 30 feet. To counter the building’s tallest point at 42 feet, developers were willing to set the structure back another five feet from the sidewalk to break up its mass.
But apparently that wasn’t enough. Council members said they felt that the building’s owners, Stephen Marcus and his partners ” as well as their development team, including local planner Stan Clauson ” were unwilling to address neighbors’ concerns and they didn’t bring the height down enough.
“You didn’t at all go to the neighbors and, in fact, you turned the other way,” Romero said.
More than a dozen people spoke out Monday against the project, saying it would change the character of the area to something unrecognizable and is far too large for the neighborhood.
“It’s going to cast a shadow on the entire area,” said Charles Cunniffe, a local architect and a neighbor of the Wienerstube. “It’s 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag.”
Longtime Aspen resident Steve Stevenson told the council that developers’ claims that the building has to be a certain size in order to provide enough of an economic return shouldn’t be his problem.
“It’s not our responsibility as citizens of Aspen to make sure they make money,” Stevenson said. “If they spent too much for the building, that’s their problem and a bad business decision.”
The land-use plan, for which the owners already had approval, called for redeveloping the property into a 47,000-square-foot complex that would house the Wienerstube restaurant for at least 10 years, Ajax Bike and Sport, and four or five smaller affordable commercial spaces that would have faced the alley. The 12 affordable housing units and six free-market condos would have been on the upper levels, along with additional commercial and office space.
Clauson and his clients sought subdivision approval for the property, located at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Spring Street, because the plan involved creating multifamily units, which requires that the building be separated by different ownership interests.
Councilmen Steve Skadron and J.E. DeVilbiss recused themselves from the review. As a former Planning and Zoning Commission member, Skadron voted for the project. DeVilbiss cited a conflict of interest because he is a longtime customer of the Wienerstube.
The project, which has been in the review process for nearly two years, was about to be shot down by the council Dec. 3, so the development team opted for a continuance to address elected leaders’ concerns.
New to the offering and introduced to the council Jan. 28 was reducing the number of parking spaces from 47 off-street spaces to 23 or 24, plus paying an extra $469,294 as a cash-in-lieu payment for affordable housing.
Clauson and his clients last month committed to deed restricting 2,046 square feet of ground floor commercial space to ensure that it remains affordable ” something that has never been offered before by a developer.
Council members agreed the development had many community benefits and it appeared that they would have liked to have approved it, had the building had been smaller.
But in the end, if approved, the height of the Wienerstube complex would set a precedent for other buildings to be redeveloped at that height, if not taller, council members reasoned.
Clauson voiced his frustration to the council, noting that if a project meets the code, he has no other basis on which to judge whether it will get the blessing of elected leaders. He and his clients weren’t seeking anything beyond what was allowed by the city’s rules, Clauson stressed.
“Council has extended itself beyond the code, with all due respect,” he said, adding redevelopment of Aspen’s aging structures must occur as part of progress and the Wienerstube project aimed to do that.
After the council’s decision, Marcus shook his head.
“I’m disappointed,” he said, adding he is unsure of what his next move will be with the building and the nearly empty parking lot next to it. “My partners and I will have to have a meeting and decide what to do next.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a limited-liability company has proper standing to sue the city of Aspen over its affordable-housing fees.