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Views on infill all about views

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s protected view planes don’t appear to be in jeopardy, but the City Council’s willingness to retain them didn’t allay the concerns of a roomful of residents who voiced worries about infill on Tuesday.

Proposed new regulations on building heights, the elimination of most protected view planes and a relaxation on the requirement for urban open space on downtown properties are all part of a sweeping package of land-use code amendments now before the City Council.

The code changes, which affect every zone district within the original platted areas of the Aspen townsite, are designed to foster added density in town rather than outward sprawl. The redevelopment of tired downtown buildings and old lodges, additional affordable housing in the core and enhanced downtown vibrancy are all goals.

The elimination of protected view planes, however, troubled a majority of council members at a work session last night.

“I have some concerns, and not just in the commercial core. I have some concerns on Main Street,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I think there’s something to be said for these little glimpses of the mountains.”

“The view planes we have all have some value,” agreed Councilman Tom McCabe. “They’re not irrelevant.”

The city’s existing land-use code establishes seven protected views. Klanderud proposed an eighth – the view of Shadow Mountain from Wagner Park.

Taller buildings, too, will be an issue for the council as the infill legislation advances to formal public hearings next month, Klanderud predicted.

Both issues were of key concern for many in the audience.

“The views, in my mind, might be the most significant amenities we have and the most irreplaceable,” said Katharine Thalberg, owner of Explore Booksellers.

Several citizens voiced fears that the infill legislation goes too far and will lead to drastic changes that ruin the town’s character. Some predicted Aspen will encourage greater density in town without halting sprawl on its edges.

Longtime area resident Connie Harvey said she initially supported the infill concept to create more affordable housing, but believes the proposals tackle too much.

“I think we will lose the charm, we will lose the sunlight, we will risk losing the views,” she said. “I’m really frightened by this.”

“Those are radical, radical changes,” said former Mayor Bill Stirling, urging the council to put off adoption of infill regulations until after the May election, so the proposals can be debated during the campaign season. “These are long, far-reaching decisions,” he said.

The infill package addresses building heights in each zone district. Downtown buildings, currently capped at 40 feet, would be limited to 42 feet for a three-story building, or 52 feet for a partial fourth floor with special review and approval.

“Two feet, where it goes from 40 to 42 feet, is not troublesome,” Klanderud said. She questioned 52 feet.

Architects of the infill plan said a fourth-floor, free-market penthouse could make a mixed-use building containing affordable housing financially doable.

Developers can already seek a 52-foot building through a planned unit development, Councilman Tim Semrau noted. “It’s not too dissimilar from what we have now,” he said.

“I think variances in heights are probably unacceptable to the community at this time,” countered Rachel Richards, another former mayor, chiding the council for failing to check in with the citizenry before the proposals advanced to this stage of review.

Aspenite Cliff Weiss said he’d like a “tangible return” for taller buildings, like a contribution toward open space purchases from developers.

The relaxation of the urban open space requirement, giving developers the option of leaving 25 percent of a downtown parcel open or doing something else when that’s not practical, won praise from the council, but criticism from some in the audience.

The infill proposal would allow developers to pay cash in lieu of the open space or make improvements to other urban open space instead.

“You can’t trade open space in an urban area for open space somewhere else or for dollars and get the same result,” said attorney Doug Allen.

The council has another work session on infill scheduled March 3 and a formal public hearing slated for March 10.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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