City Council approves new rules for razing old apartment buildings |

City Council approves new rules for razing old apartment buildings

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Apartment-building owners will be allowed to tear the structures down and replace them without providing affordable housing, so long as the new building is the same size as the old one, the Aspen City Council finally agreed Monday.

The council had wrestled twice before with how to allow the replacement of multifamily buildings without losing all of the de facto affordable housing they represent. The buildings, which tend to be old and decrepit, typically house local workers though they aren’t deed-restricted as worker housing.

Under the old rules, if an owner ripped down a multifamily building ” anything of three units or more ” half of the units had to be replaced with deed-restricted housing. To get around that requirement, some developers went to great lengths to remodel rather than rebuild the structures.

After another lengthy debate yesterday, the council voted 3-2 to let property owners rebuild a multifamily building without providing any worker housing, so long as the new building provides the same number of units, bedroom mix and livable square footage.

If the new building bumps up the size of the units, a commensurate percentage of deed-restricted housing must be provided. For example, if the new units are expanded by 20 percent, the developer must provide 20 percent mitigation, either in actual units or cash in lieu of the housing.

“It allows projects to redevelop with a like project … but it also implements some sort of an affordable housing fee or requirement,” said Chris Bendon, the city’s long-range planner.

The new rules are much less onerous than the old 50 percent replacement requirement, noted Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

“To have a sliding scale keeps it fair for everyone,” she said.

Councilman Tim Semrau voted against the proposal, arguing a property owner ought to be able to bring a ridiculously small unit up to a minimum size without being penalized.

“I don’t want them rebuilt to a minimum size that isn’t livable,” he said.

The developer will build larger units anyway to make them attractive on the free market, Richards countered.

Councilman Terry Paulson voiced concern that the locals living in the buildings will be forced out with the redevelopment of apartments into pricey condos regardless of the size of the new units.

“The bottom line for me is, how do you keep some of these lower-income people in town?” he said. “I’m not against allowing the developer to make a buck here, but I don’t want to squeeze these people out.”

John Werning, part owner of the 14-unit Park Avenue Apartments, urged the council to simply ease the existing requirement to provide deed-restricted housing. He suggested replacing 30 percent of the units with affordable housing instead of half of them when a multifamily building is razed and replaced.

There are only a handful of properties ” all in the Park Avenue neighborhood ” that would take advantage of the new rule anyway, he said.

“This might be the Park Avenue replacement ordinance,” he said.

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