Aspen home built too tall

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – The developer of a residential project at 861 Ute Ave. has exceeded Aspen’s height limitations and will ask the City Council for a variance at Monday’s regular meeting.

The rear portion of the house rises to 26 feet, 2 inches in one spot and 28 feet, 3 inches in another when measured from the sunken patio in the backyard. Because of the conflict with the 25-foot maximum height limit for the property, city officials issued a stop-work order that applies to the rear portion of the house, according to a memorandum to the council from Community Development Director Chris Bendon.

According to Bendon, the heights are noncompliant due to the depth of the sunken patio areas. The department’s staff is recommending that the council deny the request from the developer, Laguna Sierra LLC. The company will be represented Monday by David Dorr, vice president of John Olson Builder Inc., of Aspen.

“Staff does not believe this application meets the city’s strict standards for a variance,” Bendon wrote. “The condition is unfortunate but could have been avoided. The record seems to reflect some applicant knowledge and potentially an attempt to cover up the situation.”

Granting a variance, Bendon said in the memo, would create a whole new set of problems.

“Staff is concerned about the precedent this could create – demonstrate compliance on paper, build the desired condition, and then obtain a variance,” he wrote.

The project has been under way, in various forms, since 2005, when the previous structure on the property was demolished. Two years later, a permit for a new home was issued by Bendon’s department as the plans demonstrated compliance with zoning limitations.

But with the downturn in the economy that followed, those plans were not realized. Finally, in early 2010, John Olson Builder started construction at the same time that the owner of the property retained a new architect. In April 2011, the developer asked the Community Development Department for a change order for a new design, the memo states. The new plans called for a height of 24 feet, 11 inches at the house’s rear façade, and the city issued a building permit two months later.

But beginning in January 2012, city employees and the developer’s representatives began a series of correspondence and discussions over discrepancies between the height limitation upon which the building permit was based and the actual height of the structure as measured from the sunken patio.

In early May, Bendon met with the new architect, David Johnston, as well as Dorr.

“It was confirmed by architect Johnston that the June 2011 plans provided constructed details that made achieving the dimensioned height of (24 feet, 11 inches) impossible,” Bendon wrote. “Johnston stated, ‘The construction detail did not work.’ It was also confirmed by contractor Dorr that the structure was not built according to the construction detail; the joist dimension was increased, and additional wood was added under the roof membrane.”

Bendon’s memo says that when asked why the building was built to a height above what was represented on the plans, Dorr responded, “We built to the structural plans; we didn’t see or care about the (24 feet, 11 inches) on the plan set.”

Monday’s discussion over the too-tall home includes a public hearing in which any member of the community may comment. A public hearing also is scheduled on a code amendment that would allow the city to raise water rates to curb community use in the event of a declared water emergency this summer.

The public hearings are scheduled for the latter half of the regular council meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. at Aspen City Hall at 130 S. Galena St.