Ready … set … develop! |

Ready … set … develop!

ASPEN After 13 months, nearly $300,000 and close to 100 meetings, Aspen’s elected officials are inching their way toward lifting a year-long moratorium on commercial development.The Aspen City Council spent three grueling hours on Tuesday dealing with minutia related to the final draft of new design standards for downtown commercial, lodge and historic properties.The impetus for setting new standards was City Council’s displeasure with the design of many projects in the commercial core. And with relaxed codes and incentives for property owners during the post-9/11 recession, commercial development ran rampant, prompting the moratorium in April 2006.At that time, City Hall’s design standards for commercial development consisted of one page. What City Council is expected to approve by the end of the month is a 120-page document that covers everything from preserving building and street character, to architectural quality and the amount of public amenity space, along with several other elements.Council members just couldn’t hammer through so many details Tuesday. The approval of the document was continued to May 14, which will likely bleed over to a May 15 meeting, scheduled specifically for this issue. The delay is not surprising since the approval has been put off several times before.However, the clock is ticking for the City Council, which must approve the standards before May 31, when the moratorium is expected to be lifted. Without approval of standards in that time frame, the moratorium will be extended, and a different City Council will pick up the issue after new members take office in June.Many hope that doesn’t happen since the general consensus throughout town seems to indicate that people are burned out on the issue.”Property owners are sick of it. … [The council is] beating it to death,” said Aspen mayoral candidate Tim Semrau. “Even the people who care about it don’t care anymore.”Planners and politicians agree that the process has been painstakingly protracted for the public, as well as developers who are ready to begin capitalizing on their investments. But it’s a complicated issue with a lot at stake.”It’s been a year, and I think that a six-month moratorium was hoping to accomplish a lot in a very short time,” said City Hall’s senior long range planner, Jennifer Phelan. “It’s a very tight turnaround for this product.”Judging from Tuesday’s meeting, most City Council members are ready to move on as well.After 2 1/2 hours of discussion, three of five council members had packed up their belongings in anticipation of wrapping up the meeting. But Councilman Jack Johnson had several questions, which frustrated his colleagues, who had had enough dialogue on code amendments for the day.”This is like sixth period, and everyone’s ready to go home,” Johnson told his colleagues.Earlier in the evening, Johnson criticized the findings from consultants HVS International. The city contracted the firm to examine City Hall’s incentive program for small lodges and the general lodging market.HVS International’s eight-page executive summary is fairly general in the assessment of the local market and its recommendations to consider. In a memo April 10, the firm followed up by stating the obvious: “From the perspective of the consumer, a larger room is generally preferred over a smaller one … a property is able to charge a premium for this additional space. … Currently, there is strong evidence that Aspen is in high demand by a luxury market that seeks high-end units.” “We’ve had a lot of consultants this year, and these particular consultants, as professional as they may be, heard what we said and gave it back to us,” Johnson said.Council members asked staff to get more specific information from HVS International on a new formula to incentivize developers to build small lodges in Aspen. HVS International is one of nearly a dozen consultants City Hall hired to deal with moratorium-related issues. City Hall has appropriated nearly $470,000 for the process, Phelan said.So far, City Hall has spent $288,903, most of which has been on consultants.There are other incidentals in that budget, including $11,000 for travel and $35,000 in contingency costs, neither of which has been spent yet, Phelan said. And whether residents have been hungry for information or just hungry, they could satisfy themselves by attending countless meetings: Sandwiches, pizza and other finger food account for $1,500 of the moratorium budget. But the bulk of the money has gone to advisors: land-use consultants, land-use planners, lodging consultants, market analysts and a bevy of other experts. About $3,000 went to a hearing officer who ruled on individual cases of developers looking for relief from the moratorium. Even with all the time and money thrown at the issue, there’s no guarantee the commercial core will be developed the way city leaders want it to be.”We’ve never been able to develop land use codes … that are etched in stone,” said Councilwoman Jasmine Tygre. “There’s no guarantee that we’ll get what we want with this legislation. “It’s more like preventing what we don’t want.”Despite the perceived micromanagement of the code amendments, at least one council member was surprised that not a single person from the public was present for Tuesday’s discussion.”It’s amazing that so few people are here for this,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.But as the process wore on, she too became uninterested.”Can we go a little quicker?” Klanderud asked Phelan, who was going over the design standards point by point.Phelan replied: “I’m sorry, code amendments are not very exciting.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User