Council takes up extending moratorium
ASPEN The Aspen City Council will consider an emergency extension of a 10-month building moratorium at its meeting tonight. It also will consider an amendment to its more recent moratorium on remodels of interiors in the commercial core.Community Development Director Chris Bendon has suggested extending the first moratorium to allow ample time to finish rewriting the city’s land-use code and to ensure the public has ample time to weigh in on the changes. That moratorium is set to end at the end of this month, but the council still has pages of new code to review and discuss, and the public hearing process requires more advance notice than there are days left in the month.Bendon has suggested adopting the extension through an emergency ordinance so it will take effect immediately, rather than incurring the usual 30-day waiting period that adoption through nonemergency means requires. That window could allow a flood of applications that would have to be reviewed under the old codes.A number of applications that were already in the pipeline before the council adopted the moratorium could be exempt from the extension. Among them are the Boomerang Lodge, the Jewish Community Center, the Hotel Jerome and associated Cortina Lodge affordable housing remodel and the recently approved Stage 3 redevelopment, all of which have earned or are eligible for development orders.Several other projects still in the review process but without development orders may also be exempt. Among them are La Comida, the Jerome Professional Building, the Lodge at Aspen Mountain and the Wienerstube. The council will hear the first reading on the Lodge at Aspen Mountain tonight as well as continuing the public hearing on the Wienerstube.Several local planners have urged the council to exempt pipeline projects. Stan Clauson submitted a letter earlier this month saying the related delays could mean “great hardship” for those projects, incurring burdensome additional costs if they miss the start of a construction season that is “fast approaching.”In a separate letter, Clauson also urged the council to consider exempting “projects with significant affordable housing benefits.” In particular, he cited a proposed project at the corner of Park Avenue and Park Circle that would be a joint venture between a private partnership out of Minnesota and the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.The housing authority has already signed off on the project, but the council still has final say over whether it can proceed as planned.Former City Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who supported passing the moratorium last April and who has also been a strong advocate for affordable housing in the city, said she couldn’t evaluate whether that project has enough benefits to merit exemption from the moratorium, since it hadn’t come before the council before she left office earlier this year. That would depend on the final configuration of the development and what it offered the city.As proposed, the developers, PrimePoint LLC, would acquire and tear down both the 14-unit, free-market Park Avenue Apartments and the 11-unit, housing authority-owned Smuggler Mountain apartments. PrimePoint would replace those 25 units with 22 affordable housing units and 15 free-market townhouses.The current plan calls for the affordable housing units to be for sale, but Richards noted that after final review, that could be changed to for-rent – or the project might not be approved at all. Approval by the housing authority, she said, is not a “rubber stamp” for approval by the council.John Werning, part-owner of the Park Avenue Apartments, wrote a letter to the council urging its members to end the moratorium now.”You are at least ‘disrupting’ the lives of many locals – the ones who elected you,” he said, suggesting that the council review applications “one by one,” giving priority to those with benefits to the community, such as affordable housing. “You will learn by doing it – not by talking about it.”Commercial core moratoriumThe council also will discuss whether to allow certain exceptions to its second moratorium, which prohibits physical changes and changes in use of interior spaces in the commercial core.Among other criteria, interior changes would be exempt if they “comply with the intent” of the moratorium, including “preservation of the unique historic nature and character of certain interior structure and their uses,” according to the amendment ordinance. To qualify for exemption, the interior space would have to have been vacant on Dec. 12, when the city adopted the moratorium, or the changes would have to return “the building to an established business and/or use that is at least 40 years continuously running.”The amendment could pave the way for plans to expand the Red Onion into a neighboring space that a poster shop currently occupies. The popular local eatery once occupied the spaces on both sides of its current location.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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