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House-size caps fueling rush to build

Janet Urquhart

Aspen building officials are bracing for a flood of building permit applications before the city’s new house-size caps go into effect next month.

“There are a lot of architects out there who are scrambling to get their building permits in by 3 p.m. on [April] 17th,” said Julie Ann Woods, the city’s head planner.

That’s the deadline to submit plans for new homes and remodeling projects under the existing regulations, which allow slightly larger residences than property owners will be allowed to build under the amended code.

The new limitations, approved by the City Council in December, go into effect April 18. That date has not gone unnoticed, according to Woods.

“People who really had no plans to do anything, I think this helped them decide to do something,” she said.

Count local architect Augie Reno among those pushing to beat the deadline for a house his firm is designing. “We’re under a little tighter schedule because of that. In this case, we are cranking away,” he said.

But architect Les Rosenstein said work at Bill Poss and Associates is proceeding at a normal pace. There’s no rush to beat the looming new limitations on house size, he said.

Nonetheless, enough local architects are apparently so busy that a lot of work has gone to firms from outside the area. As a result, James Lindt, the city’s acting zoning officer, is spending a good deal of time explaining the city’s land-use code and architectural design standards to out-of-town architects who aren’t well versed in the complexities of Aspen’s regulations.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of inquiries on how we calculate floor areas,” Lindt said. “My theory is, most of the architects in town have all they can handle, and the demand for projects is going up to meet this deadline.”

The city adopted the stricter house-size caps, along with new volume controls, to modestly reduce the size of larger homes. Aspen’s so-called “starter castles,” which overwhelm their lots or dwarf neighboring residences, prompted the call for tighter controls on house size.

Current regulations, for example, allow a 4,500-square-foot home on a 15,000-square-foot lot. The revised code will reduce the maximum size of the home by 10 percent, or 450 square feet.

That’s nearly the size of an apartment for some Aspenites, and a lot of property owners aren’t keen on relinquishing that space, Woods said.

The new regulations establish a sliding scale for home size, based on lot size. On a 3,000-square-foot lot, the 2,400-square-foot maximum floor area now allowed would not change. Single-family lots of 6,000 square feet will see a reduction of 90 square feet, or 3 percent, of allowable floor area. On a 60,000-square-foot lot, a 5,970- or 6,800-square-foot home is currently allowed, depending on the zone district. They would be reduced to 4,790 or 5,000 square feet, respectively.

The volume controls – 27,000 cubic feet for a floor area of 3,000 square feet, for example – are aimed at reducing the bulk that results when home designs use high ceilings to generate large living spaces that aren’t reflected by the floor area.

With a crush of building permit applications anticipated in the coming weeks, noted Woods, Aspen can expect to see plenty of home construction this year in addition to several large public projects – the new high school, the new recreation complex at Iselin Park and expansion of the Truscott Place housing.

“We’re going to see construction all over town,” she predicted.

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