Mayor reveals vision for Aspen height limits
May 22, 2012
ASPEN – Aspen’s Community Development Department announced a new survey Monday to solicit ideas from the community about downtown building sizes and what would be an acceptable use for a structure to go higher than the recently adopted 28-foot limit that went into effect early this month.
It didn’t take long for Mayor Mick Ireland to share his thoughts on the subject, though. During a City Council work session Monday, he beat his constituents to the punch, unveiling his vision for land-use code amendments designed to shape future decisions on new downtown projects.
Ireland’s proposal calls for a strict no-build policy when it comes to third-story penthouse apartments. Luxury free-market residential spaces that tower over most other buildings have been driving downtown construction activity in recent years, a trend that has alarmed the mayor, some council members and others in the city.
The mayor’s plan would allow variances above 28 feet – the height limit the council passed on April 2 and which went into effect one month later – but only at the council’s discretion and under the following conditions:
• The proposed use cannot include condominiums or free-market residences.
• The building must contain “hot beds” – a term used to describe commonly accessible hotel rooms – along with retail and service-industry businesses that aid locals and tourists.
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• The building cannot, in the council’s opinion, have a negative impact on mountain views from public streets and sidewalks. It must not unduly shade streets or other buildings.
• It must be consistent with the scale and mass of the immediate neighborhood, including, but not limited to, adjoining buildings.
“The mayor obviously has a head start but this is exactly the type of discussion we want the community to engage in,” said Community Development Director Chris Bendon.
The city has opened up an online forum to solicit ideas on the matter. Visit http://www.aspenpitkin.com, click on the link in the middle of the page that says, “Open City Hall” (beneath the “City Spotlight” heading) and follow directions from there.
Long-term planner Jessica Garrow said the city also will be holding group meetings with Aspen residents and business operators as well as asking for input from public and private entities such as the Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and local architecture firms.
Another work session on the issue is scheduled for 5 p.m. on June 18 at City Hall, 130 S. Galena St.
Aside from the uses that would be allowable for a structure above the 28-foot limit, Ireland’s memorandum includes a few other stipulations.
He stated that he wants the city to “stop rewarding building destruction by giving credit for employees who were not housed to begin with.”
Existing land-use codes – part of the the infill legislation that a different council configuration passed about a decade ago to encourage development – provide affordable-housing credits for “scrape-and-replace” projects in which a building is razed, Ireland wrote.
“This credit is allowed irrespective of whether the building to be destroyed ever provided housing or payment in lieu (of housing) for any employees,” Ireland said. “I suggest we amend the code to provide some credit for preservation of existing structures that are repurposed to more intense uses and that credits for ‘scrape-and-replace’ be limited to the actual mitigation provided for that building.”
He also wrote that he wants to end the “double dip” provision that allows a developer of a mixed-use building with residential and commercial uses to mitigate for only one of the two uses.
“The mixed-use provision virtually guarantees that a top-floor luxury residence will top off commercial buildings because the additional residential component will be exempt from mitigation,” he wrote.
Abolishing that distinction, he said, will allow commercial uses to compete equally with residential uses, the mayor said. “Given the already adequate number of luxury residences available downtown and in the neighborhoods, we do not need to provide incentives for the creation of more,” Ireland said.
Councilman Torre thanked Ireland for providing direction on the issue as well as being open to other ideas. Councilman Derek Johnson – the only vote against the reduction from a 42-foot maximum height to a 28-foot limit at the early April meeting – had no comment on the content of the mayor’s proposal but said he looked forward to seeing how the discussions play out.