Lumberyard housing project lumbers to Aspen Planning & Zoning approval in long gantlet |

Lumberyard housing project lumbers to Aspen Planning & Zoning approval in long gantlet

An artist rendering of the Aspen Lumberyard affordable housing project.
Cushing Terrell/Courtesy

The city of Aspen’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted to extend their meeting last week into its third hour to finish tackling a Gordian knot of nuances associated with the Lumberyard Affordable Housing Project … the hard way.

Then, they could vote on the project’s next phase.

Eventually — after previous continuations from March 21, April 4, April 18 — the commission of four volunteers voted May 2 to recommend approval of the Lumberyard project with two amendments to the proposed resolution.

They noted that they and members of the public are concerned about potential transportation-related impacts in the area, including traffic on Highway 82 and neighboring streets, as well as insufficient infrastructure to accommodate increased pedestrian and bicycle activity within the Aspen Business Center.

So, another extension of sorts: The commission recommended further study of the intersection of Highway 82 and the Lumberyard to determine if it can safely meet a level C or better in traffic service. 

“The applicant worked with the transportation consulting firm Fehr and Peers to model the number of single-occupancy trips generated from this project,” said Senior City Planner Kevin Rayes. “The study was conducted under a ‘worst case scenario’ in which it was assumed that no alternative modes of transportation are provided.”

He said the study showed an additional 50 vehicle trips per hour to the transportation system, which would increase travel times on Highway 82 by about one minute during rush hour.

“However, the applicant is providing significant measures to minimize new vehicle trips,” he said.  

A new bus line could serve the Lumberyard with service from town at least twice an hour. Several bike share stations could be located onsite, and multiple pedestrian improvements could be incorporated to increase connectivity and safety. 

Half of Aspen Lumberyard residents are anticipated to relocate from downvalley communities, reducing regional miles driven, he said. The other half of new residents would likely move from housing in Aspen.

“Development of the project will not significantly impact travel times in and out of Aspen, but it will benefit the region by reducing overall vehicle trips between up- and downvalley communities while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 500,000-600,000 pounds per year. It is worth noting that transit operations are likely to improve because of this project,” he said.

The Roaring Fork Transit Authority is struggling to hire and retain bus operators due to the lack of affordable housing, which has caused reductions in service.

“The Lumberyard project will play an important role in housing local workers to keep RFTA fully staffed, thus improving bus frequency and overall level of service for commuters and visitors,” he said. 

The other amendment included additional air quality studies and installation of proper filtration equipment for indoor spaces. 

“The applicant team is already working on additional air quality studies and remains committed to providing a safe and comfortable living environment to residents,” Rayes said.

As a 100 percent affordable housing project owned and developed by the city, the application was submitted as a Major Public Project to provide a more flexible and coordinated review process.

What’s next? 

Now that the project has passed the land approval phase and approval by the Planning & Zoning Commission, the application will go in front of the Aspen City Council for a first reading May 23. A second reading date hasn’t been scheduled thus far. 

Once the council approves the project, the developer can move forward to the permit process.