Boomerang plan on hold for now
ASPEN – What promised to be the highlight of tonight’s Aspen City Council meeting no longer is an active part of the council agenda now that the developer of a proposed affordable-housing complex has received a three-month extension on the public hearing to discuss the project. Steve Stunda represents a group wanting to build a three-story, 46-unit building with 33 underground parking spaces at the former Boomerang Lodge site along West Hopkins Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets. He said he requested the delay so that he could have more time to answer questions posed by Mayor Mick Ireland at the council’s last meeting on Feb. 28.The delay in the approval process is unusual for two reasons. First, Stunda has openly complained about previous delays caused by Boomerang-area neighbors who say they are opposed to the project as it now stands because it doesn’t include enough parking spaces.The other oddity stems from the council’s Feb. 28 meeting, when the ordinance to approve the project was listed in the category of a “first reading,” which does not include a public hearing. Typically, there aren’t a lot of comments aired about ordinances on first reading, but Ireland said he felt the need to inform Stunda about his concerns so that answers would be provided during the public hearing that comes with the ordinance’s second reading.”The mayor, instead of just having a first reading, imposed a number of conditions on me,” Stunda said. “I did not want to go into the public hearing at a disadvantage; I wanted to be able to respond to those questions thoroughly. So I said ‘all right, so be it.’ “Stunda said that while he doesn’t think proper protocol was followed at the last meeting, he will comply with Ireland’s request for more information. He has hired a Denver engineering consultant to present a report on the state of West Hopkins corridor parking at the public hearing, now scheduled for June 13.That Ireland allowed neighbors and project opponents to speak up about their concerns “sort of bugged me,” Stunda said. “The audience wasn’t supposed to speak,” he said. “This was supposed to be a simple reading. That was truly out of order.”Ireland acknowledged that it may have been strange to bring up concerns and allow comments during the first reading, but added that he’s trying to save everybody time so that answers will be available during the public hearing.”Maybe I shouldn’t have done that,” Ireland said. “A first reading is not the public hearing. I did want more information at the second hearing so I don’t have to have a whole second hearing and then say, ‘let’s do [another hearing] so you can answer my questions.’ “As for letting opponents weigh in on a first-reading agenda item that’s typically moved forward as a formality, Ireland said, “I almost always err on the side of letting people speak.”Several neighbors, led by Aspen resident Steve Goldenberg, have attacked the project’s parking plan at a series of Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council meetings since mid-December. While the proposal meets city code by supplying 33 on-site spaces and 13 street spaces for a 1:1 ratio of units to parking spaces, the neighbors are seeking either a reduction of units or an increase in on-site spaces so that the ratio is higher – perhaps two spaces allotted for each unit.Goldenberg and other neighbors have complained that the streets surrounding the former lodge site are already jammed with cars during certain times of year and whenever the Jewish Community Center – which has a temporary home in the neighborhood and may move ahead with a redevelopment in the near future – holds an event.Ireland said the typical parking ratio for workforce housing in Aspen averages about 1.5 spaces per unit.”It’s a fair question,” he said, “to find out not only how many parking spaces this [development] will utilize, but how many are being used in the neighborhood. I don’t know how many neighborhood parking permits have been issued, but that can be ascertained.”Aside from the parking concerns, Ireland raised an issue that has come up at previous P&Z meetings. Plans call for a single building that takes up much of the area between Fourth and Fifth streets. Many opponents have asked that the developer break up the project into separate, smaller buildings, similar to the layout of the nearby Little Ajax employee-housing complex.”It does have a monolithic look,” Ireland said. “They can work on that.”Stunda said the engineer’s study will show that his project – which has been scaled down from a much larger lodge redevelopment for which he already has obtained council approval – won’t have a negative impact on the neighborhood. Discussions over parking have dominated every meeting on his proposal for the last three months.”It’s a mystery to me why some of these issues are being raised,” he said, pointing out that he already has city approval to redevelop the lodge at the same site with the same number of parking spaces, an extra floor and a greater amount of square footage.He transformed the project from a lodge redevelopment to an affordable-housing complex because of market conditions and the difficulty in obtaining financing for a lodge. Stunda also stands to receive transferable development rights through a city program that promotes affordable housing.Stunda said he’s willing to address Ireland and the neighbors’ concerns by returning to a revamped City Council on June 13, answers in hand. City elections will be held on May 3 to determine the holders of two council seats as well as the mayor’s post. The makeup of the council will change by at least one person since Councilman Dwayne Romero vacated his seat last month to work for Gov. John Hickenlooper in Denver. Ireland is seeking re-election and no one yet has announced that they will challenge him.”The intent is to be complete in our response so that there can be no confusion about how the neighborhood is being impacted,” Stunda email@example.com
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