Aspen planners suggest land-use variance limits
The Aspen Times
City planners have laid out recommendations concerning a potential code amendment that would limit development variance requests, which the Aspen City Council will address Monday.
Suggestions include caps on height, floor area and housing-mitigation variation requests while leaving parking guidelines unchanged. One recommendation is to limit height requests to 2 feet above a property’s zoning allowance. Any variance granted beyond that would trigger a public vote.
Aspen’s Community Development Department, which delivered the recommendations, also is presenting the council with the option to subject any height variance to a public vote, an option in line with resident Bert Myrin’s proposed Home Rule Charter amendment. Planners, however, recommended against this.
“Staff believes that some ability to vary dimensions due to site-specific constraints should remain in the code and would not recommend entirely eliminating that option at this time,” the memorandum to the council reads.
Currently, there is no limit on what an applicant can request for height through a planned-development review, which also is the case for floor area. Planners have proposed to limit floor-area variation requests to 10 percent beyond the allowed overall floor area. The council also has the option to subject all floor-area variances to a public vote, which planners recommended against.
On affordable-housing requirements, planners have suggested that council prohibit mitigation reductions, with the exception of “essential public facilities” and historic designations. Examples of public buildings include government entities, religious institutions and nonprofits. With historic designations, planners have recommended allowing reductions that participate in the AspenModern program.
On parking requirements, planners stated that the council should have full discretion, as is currently the case. Using approval of the Jewish Community Center as an example, the Community Development Department believes the council should be able to establish a parking requirement based on a building’s use.
“Many of the (center’s) main events occur on Saturday, a day when their religious teachings prohibit the use of cars. This means the attendees to the main events will not be driving, greatly reducing the need for parking,” the memo states.
Myrin’s proposal — which applies to all commercial and lodging zones but not residential — would subject all council-granted variances on height, floor area, parking and housing to a public vote. He and organizers initially considered a 5 percent cap on variance requests before concluding that this would essentially equate to an “upzoning” of Aspen. All developers would ask for whatever the limits allow, Myrin said at the time.
Monday’s review of the issue is scheduled as a first reading and will not involve formal action. An official public hearing and council vote on the matter could occur as early as March 9.
Also Monday, the council will decide ballot language for Myrin’s proposed charter amendment. City Clerk Linda Manning has recommended that the council advance the question to the ballot as Myrin has written it.
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