Use of revised AACP a big question among residents

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – As the 2010 Aspen Area Community Plan goes through its final round of community-driven revision, residents are questioning how much the city should base its decisions on the document.

The AACP, a guiding philosophical document for implementing land-use policy in Aspen and the surrounding area, is being redrafted for the first time since it was last revised, in 2000. The city has been hosting small-group meetings to fine-tune it.

During those meetings, some attendees from around Pitkin County have said the document needs to be legally binding; others have said that would be problematic, according to Jessica Garrow, a planner with the city’s Community Development Department.

She also said that, in recent meetings, City Council members have noted that a decision needs to made about how the plan is used in determining land-use decisions.

“They said we need to talk more about how we’re going to use the document,” she said Wednesday.

Mike Maple, an Aspen resident who has attended two of the sessions and is active in Aspen land-use policy discussions, said the plan should not be a legally binding document.

“It should be a basis for creating legislation,” Maple said, adding that the city and county should heavily include community feedback in drafting the plan. “A community plan should be just that: a community plan.”

He said the City Council has used the AACP as a de facto legal document in the past, pointing to a decision it made on a proposed 2007 subdivision of the Wienerstube property, located on the 600 block of East Hyman Avenue. The council denied the application because the size of the redevelopment was too large.

“The city has absolutely in the past taken the position that the AACP is a legally binding document,” Maple said. “They were denied their subdivisions based on the AACP.”

That decision spurred a lawsuit by the developer, who said the City Council acted outside its jurisdiction because the application did not violate any city building codes. The suit was overturned, but it ended in an appeal settlement that will allow a relocation of the Aspen Art Museum to the city core.

Perhaps ironically, many community members are upset about the settlement because they feel the proposed new museum violates the intention of the AACP.

Garrow said the AACP is incorporated in certain documents the city uses to determine whether it will approve certain land-use and building applications, so it already has some direct, binding power over those decisions.

Whether it becomes a full-blown legally binding document, rather than a philosophical reference point, will be up to the county and the City Council.

Maple criticized the format of the feedback sessions the city has held for community members. He said they have been too short to produce any meaningful dialogue between local government and the community.

The sessions, which took place last month, worked from a small-group format in which the participants broke up into different groups. Each group discussed a different aspect of the AACP, from how the document says construction should be paced to the importance it places on affordable housing. Representatives from the city compiled from the groups criteria for changing the plan.

But Maple said that, in the meetings he attended, the criteria did reflect what the crowd wanted.

“The questions and the direction was already established, and the script was written,” he said.

Community development officials have planned another series of meetings Nov. 15-17 for large-group discussions. Garrow said those feedback sessions will revolve around the most controversial parts of the document.

So far, about 100 people have participated in the feedback sessions, Garrow said. The plan has been in the development process for nearly two years. It started with “clicker sessions,” community meetings in which the public voted on the direction they wanted the plan to take by choosing options with an electronic clicker device.

The AACP is being drafted as a joint effort between the community development staffs of the city and county.

It will partially dictate growth in the city limits, as well as neighboring parts of unincorporated Pitkin County.

The plan will be finalized when the City Council and county commissioners come to an accord on it, Garrow said.