P&Z rejects Highlands Village change
Aspen’s planning watchdogs this week decisively rejected a proposed change in the plans for Highlands Village, preferring to keep the project moving along as approved by Pitkin County.The city Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday voted 7-0 to recommend denial of a proposal to convert two groupings of duplexes and triplexes into what the developer termed “detached townhomes,” which would have essentially left six-foot spaces between the homes.According to P&Z member Jasmine Tygre, who vocally opposed the proposed change, it would have been an unacceptable alteration of the “planned unit development” hammered out after lengthy negotiations between the Hines Development company and Pitkin County.Since development approval was granted, the ski area base village has been annexed into the city, thus putting it under the jurisdiction of the P&Z and the Aspen City Council.”When you start tinkering with a PUD, I think it should be an improvement,” Tygre said. “Most of us didn’t think it was a more attractive plan.”The main reason they were doing it was to get more money” from the sale of separate homes instead of townhouses, Tygre maintained. “How does that really improve the plan that people spent all those years approving?”The units are being built in two 16-unit pods as part of the massive development of the base area at the Aspen Highlands.Five of the units have been built, and the developer reportedly is “not happy with the way they turned out,” said project planner Glenn Horn on Wednesday. Local architect Bill Poss came up with the idea of detaching the homes, “letting in some light and air in between the houses and getting rid of the common wall,” Horn said of the proposal.But, he added, “It wasn’t a make-or-break thing for Hines.”Horn said he was not surprised by the reaction of the P&Z, especially given the commission members’ feeling that building detached houses might create additional demands for employees and add to the already severe affordable housing crunch in Pitkin County.He said the reaction might have been different had Hines offered to come up with money to build more affordable housing.”The votes might have been there if we were willing to write a check to the county for, maybe, $10 million,” Horn surmised. “They basically said, `Well, if we do something for you, what are you going to do for us?’ ” But, he said, Highlands Village is already made up of 60 percent affordable housing units, in keeping with local regulations.He said Hines is not likely to write such a check, and may or may not pursue the PUD amendment next week before the Aspen City Council.
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