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Public will have say next month

Janet Urquhart

Aspen took its first step Monday toward clamping down on the construction of large houses, a move that appears destined for a contentious debate next month.

The City Council, voting 4-1, adopted an ordinance on first reading that sets new limits on house sizes. A second reading and public hearing is scheduled Dec. 18.

The ordinance cuts the allowable square footage of a home, with larger lots seeing the greatest reduction, and for the first time establishes limits on the volume of space within homes. A new method for measuring building height is also proposed.

The new rules are meant to prevent more of the so-called starter castles that are popping up in Aspen’s neighborhoods – bulky homes that dwarf their lots and appear out of scale with surrounding buildings.

Councilman Tony Hershey alone rejected the proposed regulations.

“You’re messing with a fundamental property right,” he said. “We’re dictating what people live in.

“It reduces the value of these homes – it has to.”

The city already does that, countered Mayor Rachel Richards, noting Aspen’s existing house-size caps. Giant homes that block views are generating complaints from neighbors about what is happening to their property values, she added.

“Overall, it seems that everything we do improves values around here,” observed planning consultant Alan Richman, who has been working with city staffers for more than a year on the new regulations.

The ordinance proposes 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. On a 60,000-square-foot lot, however, 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 – would reduce the bulk that results when homes use high ceilings to generate large living spaces that aren’t reflected by the floor area.

A home at 1203 E. Hopkins Ave. exceeds the proposed floor-area cap by only about 100 square feet, noted Richman in a memo, but exceeds the proposed allowable volume by about 20 percent.

“We’re not making truly dramatic changes here,” Richman said of the proposed new rules.

Hershey wasn’t convinced. Neither were several citizens who attended last night’s discussion.

Builder Paul Rasmussen urged the council to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to a few unsightly homes.

“These folks who own this property, who can afford to build in Aspen, want this space,” he said. “Who are we to take it away from them?”

Designer Stuart Lusk criticized the city for penalizing owners of large lots.

“Every lot’s different. It’s hard to wave a magic wand and fix it,” he added.

“As a citizen, I want to know where is this all coming from? Who are you to be coming in and messing with our property values?” said Ben Hall, a property owner in the Cemetery Lane neighborhood. “It seems like you guys have way too much time on your hands and you’re messing with things you shouldn’t be messing with.”


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