Boomerang flies back to Aspen City Council
August 13, 2012
ASPEN – It seems that the Boomerang won’t ever stop coming back around to the Aspen City Council.
A public hearing will be held at Monday’s regular council meeting on the issue of extending the vested rights for the west Aspen affordable-housing project. Developer Steve Stunda initially asked for a five-year extension; city Community Development Department staffers are recommending three years. The current vested rights for Stunda’s development group, Aspen FSP-ABR LLC, are set to expire Oct. 20.
Stunda’s partnership is seeking the extension because a lawsuit, filed on behalf of Steve Goldenberg and other neighbors of the former lodge property on West Hopkins Avenue, looms over the project. Amid much public opposition in early 2011 to Stunda’s plans to turn the property into an affordable housing site, the City Council approved a request 13 months ago to upzone the property, essentially giving the project its blessing.
Prior to getting approval for a 40-unit affordable-housing project last year, Stunda had garnered city approval in 2006 for a much larger lodge building on the site. The weakened economy and the creation of a financial-incentive program for private developers who build affordable housing led his group to switch gears with regard to plans for the site, which lies between Fourth and Fifth streets on West Hopkins along the pedestrian bikeway.
“The applicant is requesting the extension of their vested rights because the applicant cannot allow the lodge project’s vested rights to expire during a lawsuit on the alternative affordable-housing approval,” states a memorandum from Jennifer Phelan, city deputy planning director, to council members. “Staff believes a three-year extension is reasonable under the current circumstances associated with the property.”
The lawsuit, filed in late August 2011, is technically an appeal of the council’s decision. It also seeks to recoup legal fees in connection with the process.
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During council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings and public hearings on the proposal early last year, neighbors occasionally turned out en masse to complain about a host of issues related to the plans, including what they see as a lack of adequate parking to support the facility, a change to the neighborhood’s quiet character and a building complex that’s too large.
Proponents touted the addition of much-needed units to the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory, an opportunity for employers to purchase housing it can lease to highly valued employees and a plan to turn the former lodge property into something fresh, modern and useful.
Council members gained concessions from the developer that included breaking up the initially monolithic building plan, adding more green space and ensuring that a few of the units would be “car free” – meaning that the owner wouldn’t be allowed to maintain a vehicle within the city limits or park it near the complex.
Construction is estimated to cost about $15 million, the developer has said. After the project was approved in July 2011, Stunda said he hoped to begin construction in spring 2012, with completion a year later. That construction start failed to occur given the litigation matter.