Council to review public input on Aspen building heights
June 18, 2012
ASPEN – The city of Aspen’s informal survey to gauge feelings about downtown development suggests the public is divided on many issues, including whether to allow more three-story buildings. The survey and development issues are expected to be discussed at the Aspen City Council’s work session Monday at 5 p.m. at City Hall.
In early April, the council voted 3-1to limit building heights of future projects in the downtown area to 28 feet, a move signaling the majority’s desire to keep new projects from rising taller than two stories. The decision aims to reverse the heart of “infill” regulations that were designed a decade ago to stimulate growth in the city.
However, because the council’s action was expected for a few months and the new rules didn’t go into effect until early May, developers had enough time to submit several applications for three-story projects with free-market penthouses, an element most council members were seeking to restrict.
Following the vote, council members and city staff sought public input on possible exceptions to the two-story limit, such as new lodging facilities. The survey shows that 37.3 percent of respondents felt height is the most important issue related to downtown development and that buildings should be limited to two stories, according to a memorandum from long-range planner Jessica Garrow and Community Development Director Chris Bendon.
But 34.9 percent of respondents indicated that “context was important” and wanted to see buildings that fit within other buildings in the immediate area, the memo states.
“In general, there was support for the concept that new development should not be taller than Aspen’s iconic structures,” such as the Wheeler Opera House and the Elks Building, the memo says.
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Public feedback indicated a split on allowing the use of roofs for deck space.
“There were some comments that decks can help decrease the perceived mass of the building from the street when on the third floor because they further shield the full third story from view,” the memo says. “Others expressed concern about the various accessory items (umbrellas, etc.) that are added to roofs when they are used. Some felt that decks encourage usage and that having that additional usable spaces creates vitality.”
As for allowable development, those surveyed generally indicated support for mixed-use projects.
“There was most support for commercial and lodging uses,” the memo states. “There was mixed support for free-market residential uses.”
While 69.5 percent of survey respondents thought free-market residential uses should be allowed, feedback gained through small-group meetings showed a “fairly even split” on the issue.
The survey shows that 36 percent of respondents are willing to support three-story buildings downtown “regardless of the uses of the building.” But 32.5 percent believe all future buildings should be limited to two stories. Smaller percentages of those surveyed supported three-story uses only if certain elements are included, such as affordable housing, lodges, locally serving businesses or restaurants.
City staff asked council members to walk around the downtown area and play the role of “urban design analyst” in advance of tonight’s meeting. While staff members are seeking council direction on the many questions surrounding future downtown development, they also want to know if more public outreach on the topic is needed.