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City may ease up on open space

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen may be ready to relax its urban open space requirement ” the rule that City Council members agree has produced some great gathering spots and some dismal moats.

Currently, the city requires 25 percent of every downtown parcel to remain undeveloped. Doing away with that blanket requirement and looking at it on a case-by-case basis was one of the recommendations that came out of “infill” ” a sweeping package of code amendments that the council rejected last year.

The council is now taking up the various elements of infill one by one. After much debate Tuesday, it appeared a majority of the council is willing to let the Planning and Zoning Commission decide whether a downtown project should provide open space or pay cash that can be used for pedestrian improvements elsewhere. Members were also willing to consider setting aside 20 percent of a parcel as open space instead of 25 percent.

The existing requirement has produced exemplary spaces ” outside Zele and Paradise Bakery, for example ” and a variety of subgrade spaces ” the so-called moats ” that serve little purpose.

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“We’ve got some really undesirable open spaces and we’ve got some that are really fantastic spaces,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud, advocating an approach that lets the city decide when and where they’re appropriate.

Councilman Terry Paulson alone argued that the existing requirement should be left alone. The poor spaces are the result of lousy architectural design, not the code requirement, he argued.

City Planner Chris Bendon was directed to come back with a specific proposal for the council’s review.

A narrow council majority also agreed commercial building owners should be able to demolish and replace existing buildings without providing affordable housing and parking ” another infill proposal. Currently, a property owner who tears down a tired building and replaces it with exactly the same amount of square footage is required to provide housing and parking ” a significant financial hurdle that prevents redevelopment, according to Bendon.

“As it stands right now, nobody’s going to knock down a building in the core and rebuild it,” Semrau agreed. “It’s impossible.”

Councilwoman Rachel Richards opposed letting commercial scrap-and-replace projects occur without some housing requirements, while Paulson said he didn’t want to encourage the replacement of buildings, since he isn’t sure he’d like the change.

A property owner who replaces a downtown building with a larger one would be held to parking and housing requirements for the additional space.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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