Aspen development freeze sails to approval
A handful of Aspen residents Tuesday failed to persuade members of City Council to back off an emergency moratorium that thwarts the filing of land-use applications in various zone districts.
Elected officials voted 5-0 to pass the ordinance, which was introduced Monday at the City Council’s regular meeting.
The unanticipated ordinance prompted developer Mark Hunt to submit plans Tuesday for a commercial building at 232 W. Main St., where the Conoco service station is located. Hunt’s application, along with a two others filed Tuesday, beat the moratorium, which took effect at 5 p.m.
The ban doesn’t apply to the city’s residential or lodging districts but will be enforced in the city’s commercial, service-commercial-industrial, neighborhood commercial and mixed-zone districts.
For a property owner in the targeted districts, the moratorium means there can be no expansion of net leasable or livable space. The installation of mechanical and efficiency equipment are exempt from the ban, as are interior remodels provided they don’t include expansion. Active land-use applications are not snagged by the moratorium.
Council members and Jessica Garrow, who runs the city’s Community Development Department, said the impetus for the moratorium is to give city leaders adequate time to revamp the land-use code to match the Aspen Area Community Plan. And, noted Garrow, an increasing number of residential projects downtown are squeezing out vibrant businesses.
Part of the moratorium, officially known as Ordinance 7, states: “Recent development activity indicates that locally serving and unique businesses are being negatively impacted and pushed out of existence. … Recent development activity has resulted in basement and first floor commercial spaces being left vacant due to free-market residential uses/owners above thereby creating large areas of dead space in the commercial zones that degrade the city’s commercial vitality.”
Some residents said the city was moving too fast and gave the public little notice.
“I think the council is exceeding their power to announce the first reading on Monday and second reading on Tuesday for an ordinance,” Peter Fornell said.
But making it an emergency moratorium, which was passed in less than 24 hours after it was introduced, also would derail any rush of land-use applications if the council spent more time deliberating on the legislation, council members said.
Downtown Aspen will become more out of step with the community plan — a summarization of residents’ vision for small-town character, among other components — if the trend persists, said Councilman Art Daily.
“Our goal is to legislate in a manner that efficiently protects and preserves community goals as set forth in the (Aspen Area Community Plan)” he said. “I think the commercial core, people around the world are excited to visit when they come here, … it’s part of the attraction and part of the economic and social engines of our community.”
The moratorium would be lifted Feb. 28, 2017. But council members expressed a sense of urgency to get it off the books well ahead of the expiration date.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said a goal of six months is realistic, while Councilman Adam Frisch said laying out a timetable to revamp the land-use code is essential. He suggested Second Tuesdays, which Councilman Bert Myrin got resurrected, would be an ideal setting to start the task. Second Tuesdays are informal gatherings in which council members brainstorm and discuss topical matters.
“The sooner we get it over, the better,” Frisch said.
The council also found itself defending the city’s civic space relocation plan, which calls for relocating the city’s offices from the current City Hall building and constructing a new one, along with a new Police Department, in the East Main Street area. That area is excluded from the moratorium.
Resident Howie Mallory said that exclusion gives the impression that the city is playing with two sets of rules.
“Is this really the message you want to send to the public?” he said, adding that he also supported the moratorium.
Frisch countered that the civic relocation is the product of a lengthy public outreach program, and most residents are on board with it, as opposed to other projects that have divided the community.
Nearly three years after Aspen City Council cleared the founder of Jazz Aspen Snowmass to launch a jazz performance and education center downtown, Jim Horowitz said he expects the project will get rolling before the year is over.
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