Cooper housing project back before Aspen’s HPC on Wednesday
The Aspen Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled Wednesday to review and decide once again on a proposal to develop a designated historic landmark into a worker-housing complex.
The project at 1020 E. Cooper Ave. is being pitched by co-developers Jim DeFrancia and Jean Coulter, through their 1020 Cooper LLC entity, and it also is being supported by city planners. This time the modified proposal returns with one fewer unit — from five to four — and is reduced from three floors to two.
According to a memo to the HPC from city planner Kevin Rayes and planning director Amy Simon, “Staff finds the restudy to be successful and responsive and recommends approval of the project, subject to the conditions listed in the draft resolution.”
The memo was posted Monday in advance of this week’s meeting, which comes in the wake of HPC’s 2-2 deadlock after hearing the proposal on Aug. 25. The split decision allowed the development team to alter the project whose supporters have heralded as more desperately needed worker housing and whose opponents have argued does not conform with the surrounding neighborhood, among other contentions.
At that August meeting, two HPC members voting against the project said they denied it because of the size of the new building that would shadow the historic mining cabin located on the lot eyed for redevelopment. The highest version of the three-unit structure had been proposed to stand 29 feet, 8.5 inches.
The two dissenting members — Roger Moyer and Jodi Surfas — also voiced opposition to the project because it would include moving the cabin 11 feet forward and 2 feet to the east to accommodate the development.
The newest application is intended to placate those concerns, according a Sept. 29-dated letter to the city and HPC from Sara Adams of the Aspen firm BendonAdams, the project’s planning representative.
“The primary goal for this project is to maintain a balance of historic preservation and affordable housing,” said the letter. “We have redesigned the project to remove the third story and two parking spaces to accommodate a larger ground floor unit in the detached new building. This results in a significantly smaller project than originally proposed with less height, less floor area, less (full-time employees), less density, and less onsite parking.”
The four units will have 12 bedrooms — one 2-bedroom unit, two 3-bedroom units, and one 4-bedroom unit — under the new proposal, which also lowers the height by 7 feet.
Litigation remains at play.
Cooper Avenue Victorian Condominium Association, comprised of condo owners who live next door to the property in question, sued in May, appealing Aspen City Council’s decision of April 19. That council decision, made to remand the developers’ application to the HPC, came after the HPC originally voted 3-1 in denial of the proposal on Feb. 17. The council determined some HPC members showed bias during the February hearing and did not weigh the project on its merits.
The condo association’s lawsuit, however, was dismissed by Judge Denise Lynch on Sept. 8. The judge ruled the matter was not “ripe” for a legal challenge. Put another way, Lynch determined that because the HPC had not made its final determination on the project and the association had not exhausted all of its remedies to stop the project, it wasn’t the court’s place to rule on an issue midstream. The judge also noted that if the HPC were to approve the proposal, the condo association could appeal that decision to the courts.
The condo association now is appealing Lynch’s ruling.
Chris Bryan, attorney for the association, said in an email message Monday that the condo association is contemplating the latest revisions to the project.
“The neighbors are carefully reviewing the revised application concerning the proposed redevelopment of the historic property at 1020 E. Cooper Ave. in anticipation of Wednesday’s HPC meeting,” Bryan’s email said.
The HPC is the final authority on the proposal because of the project site’s historic designation, while the developers were able to appeal the HPC’s denial to the City Council.
The property at 1020 E. Cooper Ave. was originally developed in 1888 and improved in 1964, giving it historic status and putting the proposal in the HPC’s purview.
The historic mining cabin at 1020 E. Cooper is where Aspen Times columnist Su Lum lived until she died in January 2017. She had owned the home since 1972; DeFrancia and Coulter acquired the property for $2.3 million in October 2019, according to property records.
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