Aspen P&Z endorses housing at Boomerang site
ASPEN – The Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday to recommend that the old Boomerang Lodge site on West Hopkins Avenue become an employee-housing development.Critics of the project packed the City Hall meeting room and aired their concerns during a 45-minute public hearing. They did not succeed in getting the commission to vote down or table the request by Steve Stunda to allow the lodge development to be transformed into affordable housing. But they did move commissioners to require that Stunda’s architect study ways to reduce the project’s overall size.Now the issue will move to the Aspen City Council, which has the final say. The project has received the blessing of the city’s Community Development Department and the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.”I’m pleased to be passed on to the City Council, where I think the ultimate decision for many of these issues needs to be addressed,” Stunda said after the meeting.Issues that boiled to the surface during the discussion not only included the proposed housing complex’s overall size and density, but also parking and the effects of a 46-unit building being added to a low-density neighborhood with a bicycle/pedestrian byway.Stunda said he has already spent more than $1 million on previous architectural plans to redevelop the Boomerang Lodge into a new lodging facility. He had hoped to be able to use some of those same plans for the employee-housing complex to mitigate costs.Stunda is managing partner of a Virginia-based group that purchased the lodge five years ago; the group recently decided to go the affordable-housing route when the economy wouldn’t support financing of a new lodging facility. His group sought to transform the project when the city passed an affordable-housing tax credit program earlier this year.He said he and his development team have already made numerous concessions to neighborhood critics by scaling back the project following a Nov. 2 P&Z meeting.”We did a major thing by removing the fourth floor, we did a major thing by conforming to code with respect to parking requirements,” he said. “I find these are specious arguments by these folks.”The parking plan includes 33 underground spaces and 13 on the street that were already approved by City Council in 2006 under the lodge redevelopment project.Before voting, P&Z commissioners commented on the difficulty of their decision. Some said they wished they were dealing with a brand-new proposal rather than a case in which a developer, who already has city approval to build a 54-unit, four-story lodging facility, is seeking a zoning change to jump-start a different type of project.Voting to recommend approval and send the request to City Council were: chairman Stan Gibbs, Jim DeFrancia, Mike Wampler and Cliff Weiss. L.J. Erspamer provided the lone nay vote. However, while supporting the request, commissioners added an amendment that asks Stunda’s group to “reduce mass and scale through architectural modifications.”Gibbs said he still feels like the building’s design is “larger than it could be.” Erspamer said his main concern was the effect of additional cars in an area where parking already is a problem.Stunda’s architect, Charles Cunniffe, noted that the building has been reduced from four to three stories; 54 units to 46 units; and 54,000 square feet to 41,500 square feet. A line of trees will cover the area facing West Hopkins Avenue.But the concessions mattered little to the dozen or so residents of the area along West Hopkins, between Third and Fifth streets, who spoke at the meeting.Some deplored the building’s size and said they wished it could be scaled down and broken up into smaller buildings, much like the employee-housing complex across the street at 605 W. Hopkins, also known as “Little Ajax.” They pointed to a graphic on the wall and noted that the building would be much larger than any structure in the neighborhood.A few spoke in support of the project, including Tom McCabe, executive director of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority. He said the new plans call for a building about the same size as the old Boomerang Lodge, and also meet the housing authority’s objective of improving employee livability in the email@example.com
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