Aspen projects headed for more debate

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council approved the introduction of three development projects at Tuesday night’s regular meeting, moving them into the realm of often-lengthy negotiation and public-hearing processes.

The first item to be approved on first reading involves the Aspen Athletic Club Building and Condominiums at 720 E. Hyman Ave. The owner wants to convert office space into three residential units, one of which would be dedicated to affordable housing. The plans also call for a rooftop deck and a small skylight.

The building, constructed in 1976 and designed by Aspen architect Robin Molny, has significant historic significance, senior planner Sara Adams told council members. Molny, she said in a recent memo, comes from the architectural school of thought influenced by the famous Frank Lloyd Wright.

The building owner is seeking to negotiate under the AspenModern program, which allows the city to provide development concessions that allow a developer to bend land-use codes in exchange for protection of historic structures. Adams said the changes mostly involve interior work that would not affect the historic value of the building.

A full presentation on the project and a public hearing is set for the council’s June 11 meeting. Councilman Steve Skadron said that at or before that meeting, he wants some information about the Historic Preservation Commission’s thoughts on allowing rooftop decks atop historic structures.

“Does it diminish the historic character of a structure?” Skadron asked. “And secondly, I would like the discussion to include some comment on the impact a rooftop deck has on the community dynamic. I don’t simply want to sign off on a rooftop deck simply because it feels like a good idea. I want to know if there is some community dynamic that is enhanced or deteriorated because of them.”

Councilman Torre questioned the developer’s plan to exceed the land-use code for the mixed-use zoning district where the building is located. One free-market unit would encompass 2,500 square feet, while another would cover 2,750 square feet. The zoning district allows for units as large as 2,000 square feet. The creation of an affordable-housing unit and the purchase of transferable development rights allow developers to exceed space limitations for free-market units to a degree, but Torre said one of the units would still be built beyond the allowable size.

Torre added that he’s not in favor of a request to waive parking requirements. The project would create a need for three parking spaces, for which the developer is required to pay a $9,000 “cash-in-lieu” fee at $3,000 per space if the spaces cannot be built.

Mayor Mick Ireland said his primary concern was converting commercial space near the downtown area into free-market housing. The property lies just outside of the city’s two downtown commercial districts. Ireland recently sent out a memo on what he would like to see with regard to new rules for development. Among other things, he calls for an end to free-market construction projects in the downtown area.

The vote on the project’s introduction was unanimous.

Another project that gained first-reading approval is a plan to build townhouses on a South Aspen Street property that formerly was part of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposal. In 2003, the city gave approval for 17 affordable-housing units and 14 townhouses on the property.

The developer, ASV Aspen Street Owners LLC, still wants to build 14 townhouses there but only 10 affordable-housing units on the 2.4-acre site. Another eight affordable-housing units would be constructed in the Aspen Business Center area.

Some council members expressed the hope that a hotel could still be built on the site. For several years, the city has extended the developer’s vested rights for the property in the hope that a lodge project could still become a reality.

The developer’s representative, David Parker, said he hasn’t been involved with plans for the site from the beginning, when they were unveiled a decade ago amid much public controversy. Still, the developer has determined that a lodge for the site isn’t economically feasible, he said.

“I am aware of the fact that there was a tremendous amount of time and effort spent on trying to put a lodge there, although I also understand that at the end of the day it was not approved,” Parker said. “The investment group actually purchased it hoping to put a lodge there, … and at the end of the day they figured out they just could not do it. The economy has changed that much.”

The introduction of the ordinance passed 3-1, with Skadron dissenting, saying he didn’t want to start another years-long process of negotiations on the best use of the property. Councilman Derek Johnson abstained from the discussion and vote. A public hearing on the matter has been set for June 25.

Ireland expressed hope that some middle ground could be achieved.

“I think there’s always room to discuss something that could be a win-win,” he said.

Council members also unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance for the proposed Pitkin County Library expansion but noted that many questions remain. A public hearing will be held June 11.