Council talks of extending moratorium
City staffers left an Aspen City Council work session with clear direction Tuesday, but the question remains whether the city’s development moratorium will need to be extended.”I don’t think any of us are anxious to have the moratorium go on longer than it needs to,” Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss said. “That’s been stated by all of us.”But the purpose of the moratorium is to produce a set of land-use codes and design standards that achieve specific goals, and if that means extending the moratorium past the Oct. 31 deadline, council members agreed, then it must be extended.The council directed Community Development Director Chris Bendon to revise its current schedule of meetings that would end in late September. The harrowing schedule has required the council to meet as many as four days a week, in addition to its regular meeting schedule. Bendon and the council members seemed to agree the schedule is aggressive and perhaps too ambitious, especially in light of the recent resignation of one of the city’s consulting firms.The council directed Bendon to research a replacement for Denver-based Clarion Associates, the consulting firm that resigned. Clarion was one of a number of consultants the city contracted during the moratorium, and its primary role was to offer input about how other cities have approached similar development issues. The bulk of that work was complete when Clarion departed last week, however, and Bendon said any replacement for Clarion would now be involved in drafting or reviewing code changes. Any revision of the council’s meeting schedule will have to reflect the need for a new consultant to come up to speed on local issues.From the outset, DeVilbiss has said he wanted outside help in writing code changes.”I think staff needs help,” he said. “That’s what I thought at the beginning, and that’s what I still think.”He told Bendon that he would like to see a replacement consultant or firm with strengths similar to Clarion’s. He emphasized Clarion’s broad-based experience (the company has a Colorado office but also works outside the state); it has experience with other towns; it is research-based; and it has professionals experienced specifically in writing code.Other council members agreed with DeVilbiss. Mayor Helen Klanderud made it clear that local firms might have the expertise to draft code, but there’s an advantage to hiring a consultant who won’t end up in front of the council with a building application in the future.The council also directed Bendon to set up meetings with its volunteer advisory boards, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission. Those meetings will allow the council to discuss the boards’ roles – if any – during the moratorium.Finally, Bendon and his staff will look for a consultant to help make revisions to the city’s commercial and historic design guidelines. That consultant will be different from anyone hired to replace Clarion because, Bendon said, “it’s a specialized kind of service.” He said the city’s historic design standards are very detailed, but its commercial design standards need “beefing up.”From the outset of the moratorium, the council has discussed the need for ensuring that design guidelines are written in such a way that the city can legally deny a project that doesn’t meet those standards even if it meets the letter of the land-use code. Community members echoed those concerns at the city-sponsored CORE Beliefs meetings in June and July.”What we’ve learned so far is we need … tools to manage character in development in those areas,” Bendon said.He pointed to the council’s recent approval of the Boomerang Lodge redevelopment as an example of how that should work. Although the original proposal met the city’s code requirements except for several property-line setbacks, the council sent the applicants back to the drawing board twice because it felt the mass and scale of the project were inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood.Once Bendon has revised the schedule to reflect the new directives, the council will be better able to determine whether to extend the moratorium, and by how long. He declined to say how long of an extension might be necessary, noting it is ultimately the council’s decision.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Wheeler Opera House will remain dark into 2021, with current COVID-19 public health orders in place. Meanwhile, the masonry work on the exterior of the building will continue into July.