City of Aspen draws up new lodge package

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

City officials will get their first look at new lodging incentives Monday, three months after the Aspen City Council repealed the original, controversial lodging package.

The public hearing will allow residents to weigh in on the new package, which forgoes height-restriction changes while featuring a series of small-lodge incentives and rental requirements for condominium owners. The package also calls for increased floor-area allowances for residential units and the hiring of additional city staff to simplify the building process.

Council passed the original ordinance by a 3-2 vote Aug. 11, with Art Daily, Adam Frisch and Dwayne Romero in favor and Ann Mullins and Mayor Steve Skadron against. Soon after, Aspen attorneys Cavanaugh O’Leary and Bert Myrin launched a petition drive to bring the issue to voters, garnering about 500 of the 641 required signatures in a 48-hour period. One of their main issues was the proposal to allow lodge owners to request four-story structures. The package also included larger free-market residences, fee waivers and decreased affordable-housing requirements, among other incentives for developers.

The council repealed the ordinance Aug. 26. Frisch said he wanted the city to “start tackling the problems right away.” Skadron said his desire was to focus on Aspen’s “property-rich, paycheck-poor,” small-lodge owners.

In the new package, city planners suggested a series of incentives for small, longtime lodge owners. The list includes free building-code and energy audits, permit and fee reductions for remodels and expansions, an “express lane” in building and planning, loans and grants for lodge owners and free or reduced cost of parking passes.

Using feedback from a number of public meetings and online resources, planners determined there was overwhelming support for small lodges, a memorandum to the council states.

Though no changes are suggested for height or affordable-housing-mitigation requirements, the staff recommendations include allowing greater floor area in certain circumstances. For example, increasing the allowed lodge floor area in all zone districts to the same as the overall floor-area cap would make it easier for a property owner to build an entire lodge project, the memo states.

On lodge-unit sizes, recommendations include allowing special review, which might allow unit sizes to go beyond the 1,500-square-foot cap. Outreach determined that most respondents units should not be capped. However, caps are important in maintaining moderately priced lodging, the memo states.

Other suggestions include implementing a new code for “vacation residences.” This would require residential units to be available in the rental pool for six months of the year, during which the owner or owner-guest could not stay in the unit. The city is considering requiring documentation to show compliance. Staff contends there was support for this concept throughout all forms of public outreach.

Public comments show suggestions to lessen fees for condo owners in the short-term rental pool. One recommendation is a rebate program, requiring owners who remodel their units to show rental documentation in order to receive a portion of their fees back.

Planners suggest moving forward with an effort to simplify the application process, particularly for small lodges, including building permits, construction management, land-use review and historic review. Staff suggests a lodge ombudsman to assist in an “express lane” process, which includes simplifying timeshare regulations, scaling back official review from the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions and simplifying multi-family replacement requirements.

On Monday, the council will be asked to weigh financial impacts. Providing an “express lane” for applications will require the hiring of additional, non-budgeted staff, and building-permit and impact-fee reductions also will impact the city’s bottom line.

Also on the agenda

The council also is conducting a public hearing on the Sky Hotel’s redevelopment application.

The applicant’s plans would see the 34-foot-tall, 43,605-square-foot structure at 709 E. Durant Ave. replaced with a 45-foot-tall, 96,289-square-foot hotel. The zone district allows for 40 feet in height and 92,783 square feet in overall floor area.

Increasing the number of lodge units from 90 to 106, the project includes five on-site, affordable-housing units, six free-market, residential units and five fractional-ownership units. The four-story structure also calls for a rooftop deck with a swimming pool, accounting for much of the 12,678 square feet of public-amenity space, which is about three times the requirement.

The owner of the property is Washington, D.C.,-based firm Northridge Capital, represented by John Sarpa and Vann Associates.