Aspen’s elected officials deny moratorium appeal from homeowners
Claiming they were slow played by city, longtime locals filed application to build their home a week beyond when the residential development moratorium took effect
Aspen City Council on Tuesday rejected an appeal by homeowners asking for an exemption to a moratorium on residential development so they can demolish the $4.5 million duplex they bought in 2020 to build a larger single-family home to live in.
The owners, Noah Shore and Cynthia Chase, submitted an application to the city to demolish the existing building at 1212 E. Hopkins Ave. seven days after council approved an emergency ordinance immediately suspending residential development orders.
The Dec. 8 surprise unanimous vote is aimed at taking a pause on the rampant acceleration of residential development within the city while officials update the municipal government’s rules and regulations on growth, affordable housing mitigation, as well as impacts on the environmental and community landscapes.
Council voted unanimously during its regular meeting Tuesday to uphold the decision made by Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director, to deny the applicants’ appeal.
Council members agreed Supino did not abuse his discretion or power in making the decision.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said it was an extremely painful to vote against people she has known for years but that it’s based on fact, not feelings.
“You need to listen to the facts, not the story, and this hearing is about the facts,” she said. “I hate to say it this way but it’s not about the people, it’s not about the players, it’s about the facts, and this request for an exemption to move forward does not fit the ordinance and it does not fit the exemptions that sit there.”
Shore and Chase, represented by local attorney Chris Bryan, contended that the city was slow to respond in their pursuit to file an application this past fall due to staff moving into the new City Hall on Rio Grande Place and not enough people working around the Thanksgiving holiday, delaying them to file in a timely manner.
“This particular applicant had everything ready to go and he was waiting for city staff to get back to him and his team spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional fees, including architects, land planners, attorneys and had an arduous process,” Bryan told council. “He wanted to be able to get a certificate of completion and the moratorium took that away.”
Councilman John Doyle said it’s no secret that the permitting process within the city government takes a long time and took issue with the phrase that the “city dragged its feet.”
“We were also dealing with COVID, moving the city offices … the holidays and staff shortages because we can’t house staff,” he said.
City staff contended departments within the government continuously worked with the applicants throughout mid-October through the first week of December and provided feedback to their design questions.
They were told by the owners’ representatives on Dec. 6 they were coordinating a permit submittal.
On Dec. 15, 2021, one week after the adoption of Ordinance 27, the architects for the applicant submitted a building permit application to the city’s portal, which was rejected.
Bryan also argued that the ordinance is invalid because council violated open meetings law and violated procedural and substantive due process rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and constitutes a “takings” under Colorado law.
Assistant City Attorney Kate Johnson and Planning Director Amy Simon countered that those issues are outside of the scope of the applicants’ appeal as they are unrelated to the city’s determination concerning the application of the ordinance to the project.
Regardless, council members agreed that the applicants are not entitled to an exemption because they do not meet any of the stated exemptions in the ordinance.
“Nobody is asserting that Mr. Shore acted in bad faith or are trying to skirt the rules,” Johnson said. “There were many applicants in very similar positions as the Shores. … I think to expand or read into the ordinance language that is not there would disadvantage other citizens that have been affected by this ordinance.”
Shore and Chase are longtime Aspen residents who want to eventually move into their new home and raise their family.
“Mr. Shore and Ms. Chase and their family are precisely the kinds of people that city officials say they want living in Aspen for purposes of ‘community character,’” Bryan wrote in a Jan. 21 letter to the city.
They bought the property from longtime local Rodney Knutson who had owned it since 1988 and continued to live there, as well as a tenant in the other half of the duplex, until last October.
At that time, the applicants leased both sides of the duplex to local workers with a lease term until October 2022, at which time they anticipated starting construction.
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