Building heights, infill in general, stymie council |

Building heights, infill in general, stymie council

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Impossibly split on where to limit heights on downtown buildings, Aspen City Council members made little headway Tuesday in their ongoing review of the city’s proposed infill legislation.

By a slim majority, however, the council reversed an earlier decision and agreed to reinstate a ban on certain office uses in ground-floor commercial spaces. But then the council agreed that controversial measure could be removed from the package of infill amendments and considered separately.

After two hours, Mayor Helen Klanderud expressed reservations about the council’s plan to re-review infill, zoning district by zoning district, though members resolved to do just that last week.

“I’m not sure this process is working at all,” she said. “I’m not sure how many more hours we can survive and remain sane.

“There are times when I feel we’re just spinning our wheels.”

The complex package of zoning amendments, so named because they focus additional building density in the town core – the filling in of Aspen – has been the subject of countless meetings before the council. Members, scheduled to meet in a “retreat” next week, agreed to discuss their approach to reviewing the proposals then.

Last night, the council got nowhere in its effort to settle on height limits for downtown buildings.

The existing land-use code sets the cap at 40 feet. The original infill proposal called for a 42-foot, three-story building or a 45-foot, four-story structure. On the 42-foot building, a partial fourth floor topping out at 52 feet was possible, but that required special review and approval, plus the purchase of a transferable development right from a historic property.

The council previously rolled back the height limit to the existing 40 feet, or 48 feet for a partial fourth floor with special review and a TDR.

Klanderud and Councilman Tim Semrau reconfirmed their support for that approach; Councilman Torre and Councilwoman Rachel Richards both supported a 42-foot cap for a three-story building, but nothing more. Councilman Terry Paulson called for a case-by-case review with each development proposal rather than a blanket height limit.

“I can’t support the partial fourth floor,” Richards said. “I see this as creating buildings that are taller than the Elks [Building] or as tall as the Hotel Jerome.”

Richards, however, led the push to reinstate the ban on future office uses in prime retail spaces on the ground floor in the commercial core.

“Frankly, I think it’s the single toughest and most important change that could go forward,” she said.

Existing office uses could stay, but the city could halt the continuing “deterioration” of the retail environment, Richard argued.

Paulson backed her stance, while Torre suggested a “pedestrian zone” where certain office uses would be prohibited.

A proliferation of offices selling hotel timeshares has fueled the debate.

“This is basically a reaction to timeshares, which I don’t like, like everyone else,” Semrau said. Government regulation isn’t the answer, he added.

When the timeshare offices sell their product and leave, those spaces could wind up empty, Klanderud added.

“Nothing is worse than vacant spaces to kill vitality,” she said.

Klanderud suggested the council shelve the issue until a newly hired downtown consultant, hired to study Aspen’s retail environment, completes its work.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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