Council revisits decision to restrict Aspen building heights
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – With Councilman Adam Frisch returning to his seat after a scheduled vacation that caused him to miss last week’s special meeting, the Aspen City Council on Monday revisited the discussion on downtown building heights.
Council members didn’t hold another vote on the controversial ordinance that passed 3-1 at the special meeting, however. Even a “nay” vote from Frisch on the ordinance, crafted by city staff and amended significantly by Mayor Mick Ireland, would have made the vote 3-2, which would not have changed the outcome.
The measure seeks to reverse the heart of “infill” regulations that were designed a decade ago to stimulate growth in the city. The ordinance limits building heights of future projects in the downtown area to 28 feet, a reduction from the currently allowed 42 feet in the Commercial Core District and 40 feet in the adjacent Commercial District. It goes into effect in early May, and the city’s Community Development Department has been hit by a stream of applications for new projects over the past month as developers seek to play by the old rules.
Frisch had previously argued for a reduction in maximum building heights but not nearly to the extent of Ireland’s ordinance. Council members spent about an hour Monday night discussing the issue and took some public comment from the audience. In the coming months, council members plan to look into possible exceptions to the 28-foot rule, which effectively prohibits the construction of three-story buildings with luxury penthouses, a recent development trend in the city.
Frisch said the new ordinance’s effect – along with that of an emergency ordinance Councilman Torre proposed in late February but which failed to garner enough support for passage – is having the negative and unintended consequence of City Hall being bombarded by development applications as developers try to beat the clock.
“There was talk about a slow start, but to me, we’ve turbo-boosted the entire development process and have set up an ‘Aspen Design and Construction Industry Job Recovery Act of 2012,'” Frisch said. “We’re going to be seeing five or 10 years’ worth of applications come in, in the next 30 days.”
Later, Frisch said he doesn’t subscribe to the assumption that all developers are trying to maximize “every last nickel out of this community” with projects driven by expensive penthouses.
“Obviously we will see some. I think they’re healthy if they’re done the right way and if we can have an appropriate amount of affordable housing tied into it, as well,” he said. “I think this goes back to, We had a little bit of a problem that some people thought about, but I think we’ve created a much larger one with what happened.”
Torre noted that Frisch had an opportunity to support his emergency ordinance, which would have gone into effect immediately and negated the problem of developers bombarding the city with applications in a race against time.
Ireland also weighed in and said that without passage of the new ordinance to accommodate more studies, developers still would have submitted a lot of project applications with penthouse components this year because they knew that changes were in the air.
“Nobody here has yet pointed to me a resort where the free-market, unfettered approach has led to vitality,” Ireland said. “We have more vitality in downtown Aspen because we created it by regulation. You do not have that vitality in downtown Breckenridge or downtown Vail … because most places did not regulate, they allowed unfettered development, and the market did what it wanted to do.”
Council members also discussed future lodging needs. Projects with hotel rooms, not fractional-share residences, might end up being one possible exception to the 28-foot rule.
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