Close vote sends Boomerang proposal back to Aspen council
ASPEN – By a 3-2 vote, the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission agreed Tuesday to approve parking plans for an affordable-housing project at the former Boomerang Lodge site, sending the issue to the City Council for the second time since December.Commissioners L.J. Erspamer and Bert Myrin cast the nay votes. But Stan Gibbs, Mike Wampler and Cliff Weiss supported the motion to recommend the parking component of the project. That motion includes an amendment suggesting that the city embark upon a detailed study of on- and off-street parking along the West Hopkins Avenue corridor and side streets near the Boomerang property.Though he was technically victorious in that P&Z moved his project forward, developer Steve Stunda clearly was clearly unhappy with the events that led to Tuesday’s meeting and with certain aspects of the outcome. The meeting dealt specifically with an appeal by project opponents of the commission’s December decision to recommend support for the overall plan, the appeal having been based on a technicality involving a city staff error during the review process.To the developer, time is money – especially since redevelopment of the Boomerang site has been in the works for more than six years. Stunda expressed worry that the value in his project keeps diminishing with every meeting, and appeared annoyed over the suggestion that a new parking study should be conducted in the neighborhood surrounding the project site.”Delay, delay, delay, that’s what this is all about. Delay, delay, delay, until I’m bankrupt,” Stunda said.He also provided The Aspen Times with his own survey showing that of 30 letters submitted to the P&Z expressing opposition to the parking component of his project, only 10 of the writers are registered to vote in the city. He suggested that the evidence backs up his claim that most of the neighborhood opponents are not full-time residents of the area over which they voice concern.The 2.5-hour meeting had a hurried ending, rushed by the fact that the Pitkin County Library meeting room was reserved for another use at 7 p.m. Prior to the vote, the five commissioners and about 10 community members expressed their feelings on the parking issue. Discussions were limited to parking matters, given that other aspects of the project were not under appeal.Resident John Staton argued that in approving the plan, the city would be creating a parking-congestion problem in a section of West Hopkins – around Third, Fourth and Fifth streets – that already exists in the area of Sixth and Seventh streets. Another resident, Dick Carter, argued that a proper study of the area’s parking trends was necessary before the city could make a solid decision.Stunda represents a Virginia-based group that has already scaled down the project from 54 to 46 units and a height of four stories to three. Square-footage has been reduced from 54,000 to 41,500. The parking proposal calls for 33 underground spaces and 13 on the street, concepts already approved by the City Council in 2006 through the Planned Unit Development process, at a time when the project was still a lodge redevelopment.Stunda’s group was driven to transform the project from a lodge redevelopment to an employee-housing facility because the downturn in the economy limited the ability to secure financing. The city’s creation of a tax-credit program for affordable housing also made that type of project more attractive. If it had the financing, and other economic conditions were more favorable, Stunda’s group basically could go ahead with its more massive lodge plan without the need for further government approvals.Opponents have argued the affordable-housing project does not have enough parking for a neighborhood that is already beset with parking problems. Resident Steve Goldenberg, who has led the battle over the parking issue, argued during the meeting that a 1:1 ratio of units to parking spaces was not nearly enough. He pointed out that the Little Ajax affordable-housing complex, which sits across the street from the Boomerang site, has 14 units and 25 off-street parking spaces, and that Phase One of Burlingame Ranch requires two spaces per single family home and averages 1.6 spaces per unit overall. A city staff memo, however, addresses the topic differently, saying that in terms of the ratio of bedrooms to parking spaces, the Boomerang project is actually in line with other affordable-housing projects around the city.Still, citing various scenarios, Goldenberg said based on 46 units, the development might need as many as two off-street parking spaces per unit, or 92 spaces. “You have to park the cars the people own, and their guests, and the second cars, and their recreation vehicles, and the service vehicles,” he said. Using another of his scenarios, Goldenberg said Stunda’s group will get a large multimillion-dollar subsidy through the city’s tax-credit program – he estimated somewhere between $10 million and $25 million – for building affordable housing in the city.”That’s enough of a subsidy to make him build the right amount of parking and solve the problem,” he said. “He doesn’t have to take it out of his own pocket.”Summing up, Goldenberg told commissioners to err on the side of caution. “If you make a mistake on the wrong side, it’s irreversible,” he said.But P&Z member Wampler said he wasn’t necessarily worried that the development would generate a great number of vehicles needing parking spaces. Automakers keep building smaller and smaller cars, he said. Officials have spread the word about conservation programs and the benefits of public transit.”We are all going to be in smaller cars [in the future],” Wampler said. “There are going to be less cars in town, one way or the other.”He also cited the effect of the economic downturn and lower wages and salaries. “I think when people have less money, they start looking at smaller vehicles or eliminate the need,” Wampler said.Fellow commissioner Gibbs said the need for more affordable housing for working families in the community outweighs parking concerns. He pointed out the Boomerang site’s close proximity to local public-transit access on Main Street in suggesting that those who live in the new complex won’t need so many vehicles. He said the city’s minimum standard of a 1:1 ratio of housing units to parking don’t apply to the current debate. Under a PUD application, officials can opt to go below such standards if they deem that to be an acceptable course of action, Gibbs firstname.lastname@example.org
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