Call to limit Aspen building heights voted down |

Call to limit Aspen building heights voted down

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen Councilman Torre’s call for an emergency ordinance that would immediately amend the land-use code to restrict building heights well below the maximum 42-foot level was denied Monday night.

Torre, who argued for setting a restriction in the 28- to 32-foot range, secured the votes of Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilman Steve Skadron to pass the ordinance on first reading and push the discussion to a public hearing and final vote Tuesday. A 3-2 majority usually is enough for victory in council decisions, but with an emergency ordinance, four votes are necessary to move the matter along.

Councilmen Derek Johnson and Adam Frisch were steadfastly opposed to the introductory passage and holding a Tuesday meeting to discuss the matter further. They said that changes to the land-use code can be accomplished, as scheduled, through a series of meetings involving Community Development Department staff, the city Planning and Zoning Commission and council members over the next few months.

The new restriction would have applied to building projects in the heart of the city – the downtown commercial core and the C-1 zoned area on the west side of South Original Street. Torre argued that without some type of immediate height restriction, the council will see numerous development applications filed under the wire – before the council changes the land-use codes sometime over the next few months – allowing developers to play by the old rules that are less restrictive.

“Our current maximum heights in the commercial core and C-1 zone are giving us applicants and applications for buildings that fall under code but don’t seem to really be serving our community as we would like them to,” Torre said.

He said neither he nor the other council members are anti-development.

“I think we are all concerned with slow growth and appropriate growth,” Torre said.

He said the quickly prepared ordinance wasn’t perfect and that he was simply asking the council to introduce the measure Monday so that he could take a few more hours to tweak it and advance the discussion to Tuesday. If the council didn’t like the ordinance at the second meeting, it could reject it then, he said.

“What I’m asking for tonight is consideration of this over the next 24 hours,” he said. “I’m not saying this is what we should pass tomorrow, 28 to 32 feet, but maybe we can come to a lowered maximum height that still allows third-floor development.”

But despite the argument on procedural grounds, Johnson and Frisch continued to oppose his request.

“This is really important to us, and this is not establishing sound process in decision-making, passing an emergency ordinance, even on first reading, with a couple of hours notice,” Frisch said.

Johnson said he didn’t see the situation as an emergency.

“I understand where you’re coming from here with our past conversations on how the land-use code could be tweaked a little bit,” Johnson told Torre. “But I don’t want to do things that we don’t fully understand, we don’t fully know, that we haven’t studied – what this will do to our resort economy, what this will do to other things that we haven’t even considered.”

Torre said the current rules set up applicants to be unfairly “villainized,” a reference to strong community feelings surrounding two future developments on East Hyman Avenue: the Aspen Art Museum proposal, approved in 2010, and Aspen Core Ventures LLC’s plan for a three-story, mixed-use building, approved Feb. 13. The latter project includes a 6,900-square-foot penthouse, viewed by some council members as a trade-off in exchange for the developer’s commitment to restoring the nearby Benton Building and not demolishing the structure that houses Little Annie’s restaurant.

Those projects met current code requirements on height, but the community “shuddered” over the museum project, which will rise to 47 feet when taking into account rooftop solar panels, Torre said. He also referred to community sentiment over the height of the recently approved Aspen Core Ventures building.

“What we have currently under our code is for the absolute height of buildings to go to 52 feet (when including rooftop mechanical equipment),” Torre said, adding that allowing buildings of such great height are disrespectful to the iconic buildings downtown that are about as tall or taller, such as the Wheeler Opera House.

“What we have all been saying is that we’re all uncomfortable with this maximum height of 52 feet, which is as tall as the Wheeler, as tall as the Independence Square Building, as tall as the Elks Building,” he said.

Torre’s request also sought to lower the maximum allowable floor-area ratio, cap the square footage of residential units at 2,000 and require greater setbacks for rooftop mechanical equipment, such as elevator shafts.

Ireland argued on behalf of Torre’s proposal to no avail.

“I think we do run the risk of an application that we’re going to hate,” he said.