Aspen mulls way to put cap on `monster homes’
The guardians of Aspen’s growth-control efforts are looking for new ways to limit the size of houses built here, including the creation of a “cap” on the size of houses built in the city.The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission has been working on a set of revisions to Aspen’s land-use regulations, with the working title of, “Proposed Land Use Code Amendments To Better Control House Size.”Penned by planning consultants Alan Richman and Glenn Rappaport, the document is tentatively scheduled for adoption by the P&Z in late June. If all goes according to plans, the proposal will be sent to the City Council for initial approval in July, with final adoption at a public hearing in August.The ideas behind the proposed changes have grown out of the city’s frustration in dealing with local developers and property owners intent on building houses that are deemed out of scale with historic neighborhoods. Termed “monster homes” by critics, these tall, massive structures essentially cover entire lots. They have grown in size and numbers in recent years, despite the city’s efforts to discourage them through land-use regulations.”There obviously is no single solution to this concern,” said Richman at a meeting this week, explaining why his proposed changes attack the matter on several different fronts.The document proposes changes that would, to take one example, recast the main methods used to determine how big a house can be built on a city lot.The old method, based on a calculation known as the “floor area ratio” or FAR, sets the maximum square footage of the home as computed against the size of the lot.The proposed amendments would add restrictions concerning the cubic volume of proposed structures in an effort to reduce the mass of new houses built in Aspen, and in particular prevent development of monster homes.The new regulations would compute the allowable cubic volume by multiplying the square footage of the house by nine. The multiplier, according to Richman, represents the standard “plate height,” or the height at which the vertical wall ends and the ceiling begins.”This is not a drastic slashing of the floor areas,” Richman maintained, explaining that the size reductions will amount to roughly 5 percent for smaller lots. As the size of lots increases, he said, the reduction in the allowable size of the house increases as well.”The underlying theme here is promoting in-fill (construction of homes within the city limits rather than away from town), promoting developers building smaller houses on smaller lots,” he said.Other ways of addressing the matter, according to the proposed changes, include:A cap on the size of houses inside the city limits – 5,000 square feet for single-family houses, 6,000 square feet for duplexes.Revisions to the existing “sliding scale” of FAR calculations and phasing out of FAR exemptions for garages.Modifications to the way building heights are determined, so that the actual tallest element of the home is part of the calculations.Changes in the rules governing “accessory dwelling units” built in basements to encourage the use of windows and window wells to bring more light and fresh air into the units.A requirement that a scale model be prepared for certain kinds of development proposals in certain parts of town.At a public hearing held Tuesday by the P&Z, several local realtors, architects and other citizens questioned the proposed changes and offered alternative ideas in an atmosphere that can only be described as quietly apprehensive.Developer Larry Winnerman urged the commission to consider simply increasing the “setbacks,” or the distance from the lot line to the edge of the building envelope, as a way to cut the size of homes. He maintained that would be less complicated to deal with than the proposed regulations.Richman responded that increasing the setbacks would lead to pressure to relax the height restrictions, and that the city’s current design guidelines argue against increased front-yard setbacks.Consultant Joe Wells noted that the proposed regulations might be interpreted to govern multifamily dwellings, such as apartment buildings or condominiums, because they are not specifically exempted.Richman said the regulations are meant only to govern single-family houses and duplexes, and agreed that changes should be made to reflect that.At the end of the two-hour hearing, the P&Z voted to continue the meeting to June 27 for further discussion of the proposed amendments.
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.