Infill plan ready for public debate
After nearly three years of work, Aspen’s proposed infill legislation is ready for its first formal public hearing, scheduled March 24 before the City Council.After a series of work sessions to review the sweeping set of amendments to 38 chapters and sections of the city land-use code, the council agreed Tuesday to move the legislation forward, despite the urging from some in the community to delay its consideration until after the May election.”I know there are fears in the community,” conceded Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I think we would be derelict in our responsibility to the public to either table it indefinitely, to not move forward with it, to tinker with it … I know some of us have fear and trepidation about it.”The council has already adopted the infill ordinance on first reading, paving the way for what is likely to be a number of public hearings before the council takes any final action, pointed out Councilman Tony Hershey.”I want to make it clear, because we’re going to have a public hearing, that we’re not going to have a brief discussion and then pass it,” he said.Infill, so named because it focuses development inward, filling in the townsite rather than sprawling it outward at its edges, is the product of an 18-month study by a city-appointed task force and then a lengthy review by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The P&Z, working with city planner Chris Bendon, turned the task force’s recommendations into actual code amendments.The council met with members of both groups this week. Klanderud urged them to elucidate on their hopes for infill. “What do you see as the goals? How do you believe the proposal will get us there? Why do we want to get there?” she asked.Many in the room voiced reservations about some aspect of the legislation, but urged the council to adopt the regulations, suggesting the greater good to be gained outweighs the tradeoffs.The code amendments are aimed at fostering higher-density, mixed-use development in the downtown core, redevelopment of commercial properties, rejuvenation of lodges and more in-town affordable housing. Eliminating the kinds of exactions that make redevelopment financially impossible for a property owner are part of the package.The amendments would also put an end to the proliferation of duplexes and single-family homes going up in places the city has zoned for other purposes, like offices and lodges.And, the regulations would also allow taller buildings in most of the city’s zone districts.Several P&Z and task force members expressed hope that infill will produce some worker housing downtown and, as a result, bring some new vitality to the core, while others predicted infill will allow some needed redevelopment of tired or inefficient buildings.”One of the results of past policy has been to get rid of people living in the core area,” said Marcia Goshorn, a housing board representative on the task force.”If you’re happy with the product that’s sitting here right now, which is very much dilapidated, then don’t do anything, because you’ll get more of it,” advised P&Z member Eric Cohen.Two of the biggest fears associated with infill – towering buildings all over the core and lost views – are unfounded, many in the group told the council.”We’re not talking about giant buildings,” Cohen said.In the commercial core, where a 40-foot building is currently allowed, a 42-foot, three-story building or 45-foot, four-story structure would be allowed. A partial fifth floor, at 52 feet, would require special review and approval.The notion that Aspen will wind up looking like Vail – one City Council candidate’s prediction – is the most “ridiculous thing I’ve seen,” said Bob Blaich, a former P&Z member who served on the task force.Currently, a developer seeking a planned unit development faces no height restriction and various projects have topped 52 feet, added Ron Erickson, former P&Z member.”Forty-two feet as an absolute is better than 40 feet that can be 48,” he said. Although some property owners are waiting in the wings to take advantage of infill, Aspen won’t see a frenzy of redevelopment, predicted developer John Sarpa, managing director with Snowmass Land Co.”You’re not going to see some big rush and shovels hitting the ground, even a year from now,” Sarpa said, urging the council to adopt the legislation.”My fear is that you would do nothing,” he said. “I think this is a very important possibility, or flexibility, that the town doesn’t have.””I think the town is in a crisis and it needs to have this kind of boost happen,” agreed Jake Vickery, a Main Street property owner and former councilman.Jasmine Tygre, chairwoman of the P&Z, urged the council to keep tinkering with the legislation and to be prepared for the impacts of infill, whatever they may be.”If infill is passed, it is in anticipation that we’re going to get redevelopment,” she warned.
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