Aspen to negotiate on Little Annie’s, Benton buildings |

Aspen to negotiate on Little Annie’s, Benton buildings

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – The city of Aspen will negotiate a proposed redevelopment of the Little Annie’s and Benton buildings despite the fact that Mayor Mick Ireland believes the City Council is being “blackmailed” by the buildings’ owner.

“I don’t see this as a good-faith offer, so I couldn’t participate in negotiations,” Ireland said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “I think we need to send a message. … You’ve come to us with an unreasonable, unacceptable, extortionist offer.”

The rest of the council felt differently, however, voting 4-1 to move ahead with negotiations on the redevelopment of 517 and 521 E. Hyman Ave. through the city’s AspenModern program; City Councilmen Torre and Adam Frisch were appointed to represent the council in the negotiation process.

Aspen Core Ventures LLC wants to redevelop the Little Annie’s and Benton buildings, which it owns, as well as build a three-story, mixed-use commercial building at the corner of East Hyman Avenue and South Hunter Street. On Monday night, the LLC asked to do this through the city’s AspenModern program, which seeks to protect historically significant 20th century structures while allowing concessions in other areas of development.

Among those concessions, Aspen Core Ventures has asked to be exempted from affordable-housing requirements, which would have required the creation of housing for 29.3 “full-time equivalents,” or payment in-lieu. The developers also are asking the city to waive a cap on downtown condo sizes to allow development of a penthouse that could be as big as 7,500 square feet.

In addition, Aspen Core Ventures is asking to be exempted from a $369,000 cash-in-lieu parking fee and have waived $78,750 in “pedestrian amenity” fees and $81,848 in impact fees dedicated to parks and air quality.

To Ireland, it is all too steep a price to pay – or even negotiate on.

“This offer, to me, is offensive,” said a clearly irate Ireland. “It am tired of being blackmailed. With all due respect, the offer outlined borders on extortion. It is tantamount to treating housing funds as monopoly money.”

Councilman Derek Johnson, who said he was “lukewarm” on the idea of negotiating, voted in favor of moving forward, however.

“I am concerned that we’re heading down this road of doing land-use code by negotiation, but we are where we are,” Johnson said. “This is what we agreed to do when we created AspenModern, so we have to do what we said.”

Torre and Frisch will now negotiate with the property owner – local businessman Nikos Hecht – on the development. Other options for a negotiating team were to designate Community Development Director Chris Bendon as the city representative or to hold the negotiations with the entire City Council in a public setting. Under AspenModern guidelines, either side can walk away from the 90-day negotiation period at any time. If the parties reach an agreement, the proposal will go through the city’s land-use approval process, including several public hearings.

“I am in favor of negotiating simply because if we don’t negotiate, we don’t know what we can ultimately get,” Skadron said. “There is only one way to find out.”

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