Aspen’s electeds looking at power structure of citizen boards
Aspen City Council on Monday gave the go-ahead on 13 priorities it wants to tackle in the next year, including examining the power some citizen boards have when making decisions that elected officials don’t have the authority to change.
One example is the city’s all-citizen volunteer Historic Preservation Commission, which often is the final reviewer and decision-maker on land-use applications.
That was the case last December when the HPC went against the recommendations of the local housing board and the city’s community development department regarding mitigation imposed on a developer.
The housing board and city staff wanted developer Mark Hunt to replace deed-restricted apartments onsite in a yet-to-be redeveloped building at 517 Hopkins Ave.
HPC members liked Hunt’s plans to lease to a global workspace company, and thought it was enough of a community benefit that it could replace onsite housing.
Currently, there are four apartments on the third floor of the current building, but with HPC’s approval they will be replaced elsewhere.
“I think this is important enough to have as a single goal,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins during Monday’s work session. “We’ve seen the problems in the last few years that come up when affordable housing decisions are made away from the council table.”
Mayor Torre said council’s relationships with quasi-judicial boards need attention.
“It feels like we been stuck in the same conversation for 10 years, perhaps,” he said.
Another goal of council’s in the next year is to leverage the city’s housing development fund to finance deed-restricted projects.
That could come in the form of a new tax that includes Pitkin County, which would have to be approved by voters.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said it’s an equity issue when the city bears the burden of charging a sales tax to fund affordable housing and child care and the county does not.
She said she’d like to pursue a possible ballot question for 2020 that includes the county.
Another way to capture more money for the affordable housing program is to charge developers higher mitigation fees, which is on the horizon.
Also on tap in the next year for council is developing a long-range management plan to reduce waste in the highest impact landfill diversion areas.
Council and city staff also will find capital funding sources that protect and improve river health and the stormwater system.
Reducing energy use in commercial and multi-family buildings is a priority, as is finding ways to retain and attract small, local and unique businesses in the commercial core.
Those goals, along with several others, were born from a two-day retreat that council had in July after being sworn in the month prior.
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