City looks for better housing process
Calling a truce to recent skirmishes, the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council – together – will try to forge a better process for reviewing public housing applications.Under current regulations, the council plays several roles in the life of a public housing project. As the owners of the land, council members design the components of the project. Then when an application is submitted, those same officials must take off the applicant/owner hats and put on their impartial review-board hats.Sometimes it all goes off without a hitch. But sometimes P&Z members openly criticize the process and sometimes the city gets sued by neighbors who perceive a conflict of interest in the proceedings.At a work session Tuesday, both boards agreed that with a goal of approving 600 public housing units in the next two years, it’s high time to take the potential hangups out of the public planning process.There were few immediate suggestions on what could replace the current process, but officials agreed on the need for joint “brainstorming sessions” to discuss viable alternatives for public housing projects.The work session did have a few rocky moments between P&Z and council members, but overall, a “we’re all in this together” sentiment set the tone of the discussion.The search for an alternative process was initiated by City Attorney John Worcester, who empathized with the frustration felt by the P&Z that public projects arrive on their doorstep “fully cooked.””I understand your pain. But these folks [gesturing to council members] are not the problem. It’s the process that’s the problem. … I’m not just concerned about you and your feelings,” Worcester told P&Z members. “I’m also concerned about neighbors who feel the same way and run to the courts. There is a built-in conflict in wearing different hats at different times.”But aside from, at times, feeling left out of the approval process, P&Z members also expressed concern about not cutting corners to expedite the 600-unit goal.”It’s not the what but the how,” said P&Z member Tim Mooney. “Even while serving the greater good, I don’t want to see another Centennial come up. That’s not in the community spirit because of the design. I don’t want to look back and say, `how did we imagine … .’ “In response, Councilman Tom McCabe rather defensively replied that he is “in a frenzy to build more housing” and Councilman Terry Paulson didn’t see anything wrong with Centennial.”To me, Centennial and Hunter Creek are the way to go to save open space and reach housing goals,” Paulson said. “We’re not going to solve the housing problem by building little, tiny houses, little subdivisions all down the valley.”But peacemakers from both boards restored the shared resolve to find a better way to build and approve housing that addresses as many concerns as possible.It’s not as clear-cut as the City Council making the call in a vacuum, said Councilman Jim Markalunas.”Who has the final say? Well, I may write the check but my kids might have had as much or more input on where we went to vacation. … It doesn’t mean we don’t listen and don’t value your input,” Markalunas said. “We’re all here as a family working for the betterment of Aspen.”
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