City looks to end double basement phenomena
October 14, 2014
No more double basements in Aspen.
That's the direction the Aspen City Council leaned toward Monday during its regular meeting, but just how much the city limits future residential development will be up for discussion Oct. 27, when a public hearing and official vote is scheduled.
Aspen's Community Development Department has seen two single-family development projects recently that include double basements, one with plans for a 40-foot excavation that accommodates an indoor basketball court at 201 E. Hyman Ave. The other, currently underway at 1409 Crystal Lake Road, has been criticized numerous times at City Hall by neighbor Tim Murray, who has berated the project for its environmental, noise and construction impacts. Any council action on the issue would not affect those two projects.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon offered the council a few options for code amendments. The first would require any basement space deeper than 15 feet to be counted toward the project's floor-area ratio, an equation that limits the size of single-family homes. The second would reduce basements to single-level areas at approximately 15 feet. The third and fourth options would limit excavation depth.
The council majority voiced support for the second option, though members said they would like to hear discussion on the 15-foot limit.
"I think this is essentially a loophole that clever architects have found in the land-use code," Mayor Steve Skadron said. "And I think this type of growth is inconsistent with the history, scale and context of the built environment. And I'm absolutely opposed to it, and I think we should move aggressively on it and shut this down."
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He likened it the Dancing Bear's plan to build a tunnel underneath Durant Avenue, calling it exclusive. If you want to play basketball, he said, go to the gym. Councilman Ann Mullins — who described the 40-foot basement as an "upside down" Aspen Art Museum — agreed, but she said the city should be addressing excavation, not structural depth.
Bendon said that if the code addresses excavation depth, architects might run into unforeseen circumstances, like having to remove a boulder, which would cause major complications. He added that developers will only look to dig what's necessary with a 15-foot structural limit, and they aren't likely to go deeper than 17 feet.
Though Councilman Adam Frisch said his preference is to limit basement heights, he partly agreed with Mullins.
"If there was rationality going on, we wouldn't be having the discussion about 20,000-square-foot basements that are four stories deep," Frisch said.
Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Art Daily both agreed with Skadron and Frisch, with Romero saying he's not sure 15 feet should be the limit, but he's open to discussion.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Steve Wilson, a design professional in Aspen, voiced concern about the impact potential code changes would have on structures with steep, sloping lots.
Bendon said sloped sites are already difficult. He argued that a 15-foot limit might present challenges, but that they could be overcome.