Aspen explores its TDR market |

Aspen explores its TDR market

Janet Urquhart

Aspen is exploring the use of transferable development rights to preserve historic properties and encourage the development of infill housing.

Taking note of Pitkin County’s successful TDR program, the city is pondering a similar approach to encourage development where it is most appropriate while sterilizing properties it would rather not see developed, according to Chris Bendon, city planner.

Use of TDRs, said Bendon, has sprung from discussions on how to encourage “infill” development. Touted as a way to help create affordable housing for workers, infill refers to small housing projects filling in gaps around town, like adding a second story to a one-story commercial building.

A TDR could be transferred off an historic property, where the city might not want to see redevelopment threaten the integrity of a century-old home, for use elsewhere in Aspen to encourage projects that include some infill, Bendon theorized.

The idea has generated some interest.

“I think it has a great potential for historic property owners in the community,” said Suzannah Reid, chairwoman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and a member of the city’s infill committee.

Randall Bone, who owns an historic miner’s cottage at the corner of Seventh and Bleeker streets, agrees. He is willing to hold off on a planned addition to the cottage and see if he can sell a TDR to recoup the value of that square footage instead.

Bone said he’d either hold onto the TDR for use somewhere else or sell it to a buyer in need of a TDR to boost the square footage of another project.

“That would be an example where the historic building could remain small and he could recoup the value of the FAR [floor area ratio] he didn’t build,” Reid said.

Bone has already built and sold a new home on his West End lot. He has conceptual approval to add considerable square footage onto the 707-square-foot miner’s cottage on the lot, as well. Bone said he can understand the commission’s concern.

“It [the cottage] is so small, if you do much work on it at all, you risk losing the integrity of the structure,” he said.

If he could sell a TDR from the property, Bone said he could get some value from his development rights on the property without going forward with the addition.

“I think this would be a great tool for them to help direct development in town without losing our historic resources,” he said.

The key, agree all involved, is creating a market for the TDRs.

“Clearly, as we develop this program, we have to develop both sides,” Reid said. “We’re trying to brainstorm about all the different ways you could use the TDR.”

One promising market, Bendon said, is in the downtown core, where the city hopes to promote infill. He’s hoping a developer might consider purchase of a TDR to gain the right to build a free-market penthouse atop a commercial building. “There’s a pretty big demand for that kind of thing,” he said.

A building might have commercial uses on the ground floor, affordable housing on the second floor and the lucrative free-market unit on top that makes the whole thing financially viable to develop, Bendon mused.

“I mean, you can get three million bucks for a penthouse unit – that’s why a developer would do a building like that,” he said.

The infill committee has also discussed letting a homeowner deed-restrict his residence as affordable housing for future owners in return for a TDR to recoup some of the value that would be lost in taking it out of the free market.

Pitkin County established a TDR program in 1994 as part of its Rural and Remote zone district, which downzoned thousands of backcountry acres. Rural and Remote landowners have the option of selling TDRs from their property, sterilizing their backcountry parcels from development. The TDRs are purchased by individuals interested in, for example, boosting the square footage of a home beyond the county’s 15,000-square-foot house cap.

The county’s TDR program is entirely based within unincorporated parts of the county. Its TDRs are not available for purchase and use within the city.

As of November 2000, 75 TDRs had been severed from backcountry mining claims, sterilizing 1,590 acres from development, according to county records. Twenty-three of the TDRs have been used on a “receiver site” and are no longer in circulation.

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