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Growth dominates Aspen community plan discussion

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, Co Colorado

ASPEN – A roundtable of local officials met Wednesday to sharpen goals that will eventually become part of the Aspen Area Community Plan.

Items brought up during the City Hall work session included affordable-housing mitigation, on-site housing, the pace of construction and house sizes. Members of the Aspen City Council, Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the planning and zoning commissions for the city and county participated in the talks.

The plan, which local officials hope to adopt by April, will serve as a road map for future policy decisions by the governmental entities involved in shaping it. While it will essentially function as a guide for local governments – created with input from the community – it will also carry some regulatory weight, according to Cindy Houben, Pitkin County community development director.

“The input [of the local officials] is really critical because the plan won’t be implemented unless they agree with it,” Houben said.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who acted as moderator, said he believes that Wednesday’s gathering was successful. Much of the meeting dealt with issues of growth management – not a high priority amid the current economic slowdown – but something likely to rise in importance in the near future.

“I think the big lesson of today was learning from mistakes of the past,” Ireland said. “The community has had growth management for 40 years and we will continue to have it. But the things that we manage are going to be more sophisticated.

“We are building mechanisms that will allow us to respond more quickly when things get out of hand.”

The idea of pacing construction projects to reduce noise, traffic and other ill effects on the community sparked a few comments. Though Aspen is not expected to see the type of busy summer construction seasons prevalent from 2005-07 anytime soon, officials want to be prepared for the time when construction does pick up steam.

County Commissioner Rachel Richards said she studied the issue as a city councilwoman a few years ago and found it tricky.

“You can’t impose your will upon the market,” she said. “It’s hard to tell people they can’t do their project, they have to wait.”

In the end, the group decided against the concept of rationing building permits when things get busy, Ireland said.

“Where I think we ended up was that we should have a trigger point when we get to levels of construction that are around the clock, or the streets are clogged, and people can’t sleep because of the jackhammers,” he said.

For instance, he said, Saturdays could become off-limits for building, and weekday construction hours could be curtailed.

“If we have those rules in place, then when an emergency happens, we already know what we’re going to do instead of trying to devise things hurriedly,” Ireland said.

Affordable-housing mitigation – requiring that residential and commercial developments provide or build housing for their employees or pay a fee in lieu of meeting that requirement – was the meeting topic receiving the lion’s share of attention.

Many in the room felt that a 100 percent mitigation requirement should be adopted into the plan, but a similar number thought 60 percent should be the rule. “There was a range of opinion there,” Ireland noted.

The county’s land-use code already requires an impact fee that addresses 100 percent of affordable housing generated by development, a memo prepared by city and county planners states. But the fee does not fully cover all costs of providing housing, and homes under a certain size are exempted.

Councilman Torre said the topic needs further study. He said he’s not in favor of the 100 percent requirement.

“If we’re building a house for every job, that’s a lot of growth,” he said.

“One-hundred percent is desirable on-site,” Ireland said. “Some people have actually proposed 100 percent and done it.”

Then came the question of whether the mitigation should be contained within the area’s urban growth boundary, an area roughly stretching from town to the Aspen Business Center. Ireland said about 40 percent of Aspen’s workforce lives within the boundary – meaning the remaining 60 percent are commuting into the area almost daily through public or private transportation.

The consequences of such a split are traffic congestion, pollution, noise and the inability of people to get around town at certain times of the day, he said.

“The only reason we don’t have a [Los Angeles-style] disaster is that we have RFTA,” Ireland said of the local public-transit system. “But there’s a limit to how much RFTA can do, too, because you have to subsidize it. You also have to subsidize road construction. There is a cost either way.”

County Commissioner Jack Hatfield appeared frustrated at one point when the meeting bogged down over details.

“How is this plan going to be used in the city and the county when we all look at these things differently?” he asked.

Officials plan to meet again in early February to discuss these and other AACP items.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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