Aspen electeds low on high density in area neighborhoods
Proposed land use code amendment floated by developer; fits in with Aspen’s desire for more multi-family housing but not on a free-market level
Aspen City Council declined on Tuesday to move toward a change in the rules that would have allowed high density development on lots that are smaller than the current minimum of 6,000 square feet.
The proposed code amendment, which was brought forward by a land use consultant representing a real estate developer, had too much opposition by residents and potential problems for neighborhoods, council members said during their regular meeting.
Since public outreach began by BendonAdams on behalf of Tri Dal Real Estate, Ltd. earlier this year, dozens of letters to the editor have been published in local newspapers and opinions shared with city staff voicing opposition to the proposal.
Several residents made public comments during Tuesday’s public hearing.
Residents are concerned about livability issues that come with high density developments, including a lack of parking, mass and scale and too many people residing in one place, among other concerns.
“They don’t want to become the place that takes the burden, or the only place that takes the burden or the only place that sees the changes that may be necessary for us to actually have a sustainable community at all,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who thanked residents who stayed on the virtual meeting for five hours to make public comment. “Your comments made a difference.”
The proposed amendment would have allowed development of multi-family residential on lots as small as 3,000 square feet.
Currently, the city’s land use code only allows single-family homes to be built on lots smaller than 6,000 square feet in residential family zone districts.
Most of those are located in neighborhood east of downtown.
Council declined to approve a resolution that’s required before a code amendment can be considered.
Community development staff plans to come to council this summer with significant proposed changes in the code regarding multi-family replacement, according to Ben Anderson, the city’s principal long range planner.
They’ve been working with a consultant team from Design Workshop to respond to confusion among property owners and developers, as well as study scenarios that result from policy changes and better understand the realities of likely development outcomes.
Anderson said staff is not proposing any significant changes right now for multiple reasons, including that it’s a very important and very complex section of the code.
“Because of the trends in Aspen’s real estate market in the last year, it is becoming even more important and complex,” he wrote in a memo to council. “Staff needs to better understand the implications of this more clearly before making specific recommendations.
“This is a topic that will require a robust conversation with the community (property owners, the development community, etc.).”
The city’s planning and zoning commission in April voted 5-1 to not provide a formal recommendation to council on the proposed amendment because the citizen board could not come to a consensus, according to Anderson.
While the code amendment may help Tri Dal Real Estate with developing a multi-family complex on a 4,500-square-foot lot it owns on Cleveland Street, it also is something that lines up with council’s goal of providing more opportunities to build affordable housing, which is a goal of the Aspen Area Community Plan.
The housing chapter of that guiding document for council to make its decisions elaborates on the importance of multi-family housing to the local economy with the statement, “we believe that a strong and diverse year-round community and a viable and healthy local workforce are fundamental cornerstones for the sustainability of the Aspen Area community.”
However, council members voiced concern that free-market multi-family developments would create more expensive units and short-term rentals, leaving neighborhoods empty and dark.
So would single-family homes, which would likely become second homes used by owners a few weeks a year.
“If it’s a free-market home it will almost 100% be a second home, it’ll be a cold, dark spot,” said Chris Bendon, who represents the developer, adding that at least the affordable housing required would provide some vitality to the area. “My preference as a community member would be that there are a combination of dark spots and bright spots, that there are opportunities for people to live in that neighborhood even if they are living in a building where some of the units are second homes.”
Developments with more than 10 units receive big incentives to go high and dense, including up to 9,000 square feet in above-grade floor area and up to 32 feet tall.
Anderson said while there are community benefits to high density multi-family development, he recognizes it’s impactful to neighbors.
“Public comment at this point has been overwhelming in opposition to the proposed amendment, and staff does believe that issues raised by the amendment are fairly debatable from a variety of community perspectives,” he wrote in his memo.
BendonAdams estimate there are 24 lots in designated multi-family zones that don’t meet the 6,000-square-foot minimum size requirement.
The developer may return with a modified proposal and work with staff toward a different solution.
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