No agreement on Boomerang plan
June 14, 2011
ASPEN – Neighbors of the old Boomerang Lodge site in west Aspen are still at odds with plans for a 45-unit affordable-housing development on the property – despite concessions the developer has made to reduce the project’s size and a new parking study that suggests no significant impact on the immediate area.
The issues surrounding developer Steve Stunda’s project were discussed at Monday’s City Council meeting for nearly three hours. Ultimately, the council made no decisions, but offered suggestions that Stunda, his partners and architects further scale down the project, though not to the point that neighbors would prefer.
The council continued Monday’s public hearing to a regular meeting on July 11 after determining the June 27 meeting wouldn’t work because Mayor Mick Ireland will be out of the country.
Critics of the project want current plans for a single building nixed and replaced with four or five separate buildings with fewer units. Stunda said such a concept would eliminate the 33-space underground parking garage, putting more parking on the street, which also is a concern of many neighbors.
“A great deal of thought went into the design of this building,” Stunda said.
Ireland suggested “small tweaks to the project that can make it look better,” including varying roof lines so that the building is not so monolithic. “It’s got to try to fit in with the neighborhood,” said Ireland. “I think we can simulate the breakup of the buildings.”
Recommended Stories For You
Attorney Mike Hoffman, who represents Stunda’s development group, offered no promises at the close of Monday’s meeting, but said that comments from the public and councilmen would be taken under advisement.
Councilman Steve Skadron said for him, the issue is not about parking, but about “competing community values.” For instance, the 2000 Aspen Area Community Plan, and its 2011 revision which has yet to be adopted, calls for more employee-housing initiatives in Aspen. Yet, the plan also contains passages relating to maintaining the city’s small-town character and protecting residential neighborhoods from large-scale developments.
Councilman Derek Johnson said he would prefer to see the original plan for a lodge redevelopment on the site. In 2006, Stunda’s group received council approval for a four-story, 54-unit lodge that has a much large footprint on the property, which lies on West Hopkins Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets.
The developer changed course and redesigned the project last year as an affordable-housing initiative following the 2008 economic downturn because of the difficulty in obtaining financing for lodging projects. In addition to reducing the number of units, the fourth floor of the building was removed and the floor area was cut from about 45,000 square feet to 40,500 square feet.
“I prefer the lodge. I prefer the big thing,” Johnson said. Stunda replied that he prefers the approved lodging project as well, but economic conditions prevent him from moving forward with it.
Earlier in the meeting, people on opposite sides of the controversy spoke for and against the project.
Chris Bendon, director of the city’s Community Development Department, and Jennifer Phelan, deputy director, both explained that city staff supports approval of the existing concept.
Phelan said the building’s uses would be “consistent with the neighborhood,” which has a mix of multi-family, single-family, duplex and lodging structures.
Stunda said he doesn’t fully understand the neighbors’ concerns given that there was little opposition five years ago for his plans for a lodge, which was a larger building.
Some comments addressed the “livability” of the units, which will be a mix of category 3 and 4 units as defined by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. Current plans call for 600 square feet per dwelling, a size that has received APCHA’s blessing.
For months, through letters to city officials and comments at Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, neighbors have voiced concerns about the development’s impact on the neighborhood’s parking patterns. Not only is a 33-space underground garage planned, but the developer also is relying on 12 spaces on Fourth Street (near the historic Boomerang building that wasn’t torn down) and one space in the alley north of the proposed site.
A parking study, commissioned by Stunda’s group and conducted by Centennial-based engineering firm Felsburg, Holt and Ullevig, indicates that even at peak seasons and times when the nearby Jewish Community Center is holding special events, the impact on the neighborhood would not be as great as some neighbors fear.
In other words, while the project potentially would be about 20 spaces short of what the development would require, there is ample room on nearby streets to absorb the impact, the study suggests.
“Most of the street spaces are not being used right now,” said Jeff Ream, a representative of the firm. “I have concluded that there is adequate supply to accommodate demand.
Critics, including attorney Jody Edwards, who has been hired by opponent and neighbor Steve Goldenberg and others, noted that no other single buildings in the building take up as much space as the Boomerang project would.
One alternative that surfaced was to reduce the project’s size to 28 units in five buildings, which would bring it into line with nearby affordable-housing project Little Ajax, as well as the Christiana complex.