Council adopts new ‘double basement’ language
October 28, 2014
The Aspen City Council adopted code language Monday that is intended to quash the "double basement" phenomena seen recently with residential redevelopment applications.
Aspen's Community Development Department has fielded two single-family proposals recently that include double basements, one with plans for a 40-foot excavation that accommodates an indoor basketball court at 201 E. Hyman Ave. The other, currently underway at 1409 Crystal Lake Road, has been criticized numerous times at City Hall by neighbor Tim Murray, who has berated the project for its environmental, noise and construction impacts.
The amendment adopted Monday in a 5-0 vote, which will have no impact on previous applications, will limit basements to a single level with excavation depths of as much as 15 feet. As stated by Councilwoman Ann Mullins and reiterated by Mayor Steve Skadron throughout the meeting, the ordinance had more to do with lessening construction impact than it had to do with controlling the size of basements. According to a memorandum to the council, excavations of significantly deep basements and so-called double basements are significantly longer and more affecting to neighbors.
Skadron said he can yield to staff's recommendation on depth limits, but he asked if the ordinance goes far enough. He pointed out that the new code language does not address horizontal depth. Councilman Adam Frisch and Mullins were in agreement that the issue is worth exploring in the future but it shouldn't be addressed at the council table without city staff researching first.
"I think it's an issue that's worth talking about," Frisch said. "I wouldn't want to adopt anything on the fly tonight. … Because without a doubt, if you can't go deeper, there's pressure to go wider, and if you think about East End and Cemetery Lane, there are some very healthy lot sizes."
Community Development Director Chris Bendon said that with traditional construction, a basement typically has the same footprint as the house, but he has seen examples that relate to Skadron's concern.
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During the public comment portion of the meeting, Steve Wilson, a design professional in Aspen, voiced numerous concerns about the code language. For example, he questioned how the city will measure basements for split-level projects and sloping sites.
"There's already kind of a provision that's a little bizarre, as you think about stepped basements and split-level homes, because the basements could theoretically be two and three stories (based on the city's definition)," he said.
After City Attorney Jim True offered the option of continuing the hearing, Bendon admitted the language is not perfect but said a monthlong continuance wouldn't do much good.
"Most of our land-use code is perfecting things that we've already had experience with and are evolving language for," Bendon said. "This is new territory, so there's a pretty strong likelihood that we'll be back in front of you in a year or two, evolving it forward, based on that experience."