Construction times reduced and regulated
September 5, 2007
The splitting sounds of construction throughout town will be cut back by 12 hours a week beginning next month.The Aspen City Council on Tuesday voted to amend a recent construction-management plan by reducing hours of operation for construction companies from 12 hours a day to 10.The old hours of operation were from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. When the new law takes effect in the first week of October, construction workers will be limited to working 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Workdays on Saturday will remain 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; however, construction crews can’t exceed 80 decibels. During the week, construction activity can exceed 80 decibels, but only during the designated work times. After a lengthy discussion and advice from Jim True, City Hall’s special counsel, council members resigned themselves to the fact that previously-approved projects like the Residences at the Little Nell and the Lime Light Lodge, are exempt from the new hours of operation. There are between eight and 10 large projects in Aspen, and countless smaller jobs, which fall under old rules.True explained that many projects were approved with specific construction-management plans and whatever hours of operation were granted by a previous City Council are binding unless it was specifically noted that they were subject to change.”They signed an agreement and certain provisions are binding,” True said. “They are contractual in nature and if it said ‘subsequent to future legislation,’ then you could change it. But if those agreements are written and it doesn’t say that, then they are binding.”Developers and their representatives breathed a sigh of relief when they heard True’s legal opinion. Several representatives showed up on Monday night to tell the council that forcing them to change their schedules would not only extend their projects by months or even years, but that it would also create financial hardships because sales agreements and construction loans are predicated on set work schedules.”If there is a drastic change on the timeline it has an enormous effect on our project,” said Les Roos, who represents the Limelite Lodge. He added that if construction time were reduced, the project wouldn’t be complete by the estimated fall 2008 opening. “We need to get it done in a reasonable time period,” Roos said.Mayor Mick Ireland said it’s contractors like those at the Limelite who spurred the changes and the crackdown on enforcement. He said the Limelite has been notorious for noncompliance with the construction management plan and has been a repeat offender.”We have some miscreants and we have no choice but to deal with them,” Ireland said. “Some people will simply not comply and refuse to be civil.”Ireland said that when he deals with complaints about how long construction crews work, it’s difficult to explain to the public that some projects operate by a different set of rules. That’s why he pushed for a uniform construction management plan that would apply to everyone.”People need to play by the same rules,” he said. “The public isn’t going to understand that someone got a waiver …”It seems to me that we have to have universal rules; otherwise there’s no point.”City Councilman Dwayne Romero, who proposed the amendment, said he’s been trying to tell his colleagues for two months that previous approvals should be exempt because the law dictates it.”As it relates to [planned unit developments], what’s done is done but from this point forward, [the changes] should apply,” he said.The original idea was to change the hours of construction to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Romero and other council members agreed that it would only exacerbate the traffic problem in the morning when hundreds of other commuters are coming into town.But some residents argue that changing the morning time earlier will wreak havoc on their personal lives and having construction end at 5 p.m. just worsens traffic leaving town in the evening.Changing construction hours is a response to complaints by residents, who say not only is it too loud in their neighborhoods but also that many construction companies violate both the designated work times and noise abatement measures.City officials are finding it difficult to enforce the construction rules and are trying to hire enforcement officers but so far they haven’t been able to fill the positions. To compensate for that lack of enforcement and other noise complaints, Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson told the council that squad cars soon will be equipped with decibel meters and officers will write citations when construction sites are in violation of noise levels. (See related story.)Valerie MacDonald, who lives near two large construction projects – the Limelite and the Dancing Bear, as well as four small construction sites – said life has become unbearable. Some of her neighbors have left town because of the unprecedented construction activity.”It’s way more than one person can take,” she told the council. “It’s hostile in my neighborhood.”Aspen resident James March said the point of the construction management plan was to control out-of-control activity.”It was in response to contractors running roughshod over the populace,” he said. “If they had been good actors then we wouldn’t be here.”March added that nearly 2 million square feet of development already is approved in Aspen, which means nearly a decade of construction. And many projects already are behind in their work schedules and reducing the workday provides relief in the short term, he said.”We want relief now, it doesn’t matter if a job goes three months longer,” March said.
The Aspen Police Department is going on noise patrol.Aspen will install decibel meters in 10 police and community safety-patrol cars at a combined cost of $1,341.35, said assistant chief Richard Pryor.”We have been asked to assist the Environmental Heath Department in educating the public on the noise ordinance and enforcing the ordinance when necessary,” Pryor said. “The use of the meters will be complaint-based and primarily for education.”The patrol will focus on loud motorcycles and the construction industry, a main source of complaints of the city’s noise abatement rules.”When police officers come along with a decibel meter, by and large that is going to have a huge effect,” said City Councilman Dwayne Romero.Officers will cite violators if necessary. Citations are municipal offenses, which could result in fines up to $1,000, one year in prison, or both. The punishment is up to Municipal Court Judge Brook Peterson.The Denver Police Department has a similar program, and its officers also have decibel meters.