Public zoning doesn’t deter Power Plant foes
The city government’s recent revelation that the former Aspen Art Museum location is zoned for public use hasn’t deterred neighbors from fighting the proposal for a brewery, television studio and office and event space.
Bill Budinger, spokesman for the Oklahoma Flats residents in opposition to the Aspen Power Plant project, said last week that community members had relied on the city’s previous zoning assertions for the riverside property, located at 590 N. Mill St.
Prior to determining the property was zoned for public use, the city said it was most recently in the R-30, or low-density residential, district.
If the property were zoned R-30, the Aspen Power Plant would need to seek rezoning for its planned uses.
The Power Plant proposal was approved by the City Council in March 2015, but lease negotiations with the City Council are unfinished. The Power Plant group includes two for-profit ventures — Aspen Brewing Co. and the Aspen 82 television station — as well as incubator offices that would be run by a nonprofit.
Budinger said he asked the city more than a year ago for clarification on the property’s zoning. A Jan. 7, 2015-dated email from Assistant City Manager Barry Crook to Budinger stated that the land was zoned R-30 with a planned development overlay. As such, the property could be developed with single-family homes and duplexes, Crook wrote.
“I think that’s how the land is zoned,” Budinger said. “People have been relying on this zoning.”
City Attorney Jim True, however, has maintained the city zoned the property for public use in 1988. True learned this after having City Clerk Linda Manning perform a chronological analysis of the property’s zoning history.
But even with the public zone, does that mean the building can allow such for-profit services as the Aspen Brewing Co.? According to city records, a public zone district permits the following uses: library, museum, post office, hospital, essential government and public utility uses, public transportation stop, terminal building and transportation-related facilities, public surface and underground parking areas, a fire station, public and private school, public park, accessory building, public and private nonprofit uses providing a community service, a child care center, and arts, cultural and recreation activities. Conditional uses include a maintenance shop and affordable housing.
True said a publicly zoned building could not allow a brewery by itself or a television station. But the 60-space incubator area, serving as the anchor of the space, would be permitted under the community-service allowance in the public-use district, he said.
“A small TV station that’s ancillary and helps support the nonprofit, like the incubator space, may be appropriately considered an accessory use to the nonprofit,” True said, adding the brewery also would qualify under that scenario.
Budinger disagreed: “We’re not sure that even if the public zoning were to stand that it would still allow the commercial activity that these guys want to do.”
True said any arguments that the property is zoned residential lack merit because of the new finding.
“They can argue whatever they want,” he said. “I do not believe that they can sustain an argument that says by accident, we have zoned this R-30.”
For the Aspen Power Plant principals, the zoning issue is out of their hands. At a community meeting earlier this month, Aspen 82 co-owner David Cook said, “Zoning is not our expertise. That truly is a question directed at city staff.”
Lease negotiations are expected to begin with City Council next month.
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