Study finds room for 328 housing units downtown | AspenTimes.com
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Study finds room for 328 housing units downtown

John Colson

As many as 328 new affordable housing units could be built in Aspen’s commercial core, according to a newly released study.

The study was aimed at identifying potential affordable housing “in-fill” capacity – building new units on top of or within existing buildings. But the study also noted that there is potential for some combination of deed-restricted and free-market development.

That could make the idea more acceptable to downtown landowners by allowing them to realize a certain amount of profit from the free-market units.

The study estimates that, in a “low-range” scenario, the city could gain as many as 146 affordable units, with the remaining 182 being free-market units.

The study, conducted by Senior Project Planner Bob Nevins, looked at existing buildings and vacant lots in a 40-acre area encompassing the center of town.

The 16-block study area is bounded by East Main Street, South Spring Street, East Durant Avenue and South Monarch Street. It includes the parcel known as Bass Park, recently purchased by the city, and the land presently occupied by the City Market grocery store and parking lot.

By Nevins’ count, there are 46 properties, out of a total of 110 parcels, that have some “residential development potential.”

Of that number, 23 existing buildings and three vacant lots could be used under existing land-use regulations.

Another 20 parcels, including 15 historic properties, could be used in the in-fill program, but only with some modification of current rules and regulations.

Because the city might not want to add anything to the historic properties for fear of violating their historic integrity, Nevins has suggested the city should consider allowing the property owners to sell off any development rights associated with those properties. The rights could be bought by owners of other, nonhistoric properties downtown, and used for affordable housing units.

City officials have recently been considering the use of transferable development rights (TDRs) in the commercial core, mainly to create a receiving mechanism for TDRs established under the program by the same name in Pitkin County. Nevins’ suggestion concerning historic properties is a new facet to the discussion, said Community Development Director Julie Ann Woods.

In addition to the limitations associated with historic buildings, some of the properties identified are presently of limited use because of “designated view plane” restrictions. To make use of those properties, the study notes, the city would have to modify its codes regarding view planes, to allow somewhat taller structures.

But according to a series of charts contained in the study report, none of the proposed building expansions would result in a building more than three and a half stories tall. Most, in fact, would be two or three stories high under Nevins’ projections, and historic properties would stay at their current height.

Nevins stressed that the study was an “internal” project and that he has not gone to any private property owners with his ideas.

“That’s one of the next steps, to work with the landowners to see if there’s any interest on their part,” Nevins said on Tuesday. “It was more of a study to see just what the potential is.”

City planners involved with the Aspen Area Community Plan revisions, as well as the work leading up to the Downtown Enhancement Pedestrian Plan, have been talking for the last year or so about making use of unbuilt capacity in the commercial core to alleviate some of Aspen’s housing crisis.

The plan was to be presented at a joint meeting of the Aspen and Pitkin County planning and zoning commissions on Tuesday night. Nevins said Tuesday that the study, in its final form, had not yet been seen by the City Council or advisory commissions and boards.


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