Weinerstube developers disappointed
December 5, 2007
ASPEN ” Playing by the rules won’t get developers what they want in Aspen’s current political climate.
That’s the reality for the owners of the Weinerstube building, who want to redevelop the restaurant into a new commercial and residential complex but were told on Monday by the Aspen City Council that the rules they followed weren’t good enough.
Realizing that they were about to be denied by the three-member council, the Weinerstube development team opted to continue its application until Jan. 28 to rework the plan, even though the proposal meets the city’s land-use code regulations.
But it might not be worth the effort to redesign a project that has been in the works for 19 months and has gone through extensive government review.
“We’re evaluating whether to go back,” the project’s planning consultant, Stan Clauson, said Tuesday. “It’s discouraging. I felt that we put a lot of work into it and it does meet the code in every way.”
The City Council told Clauson, building owner Steve Marcus and local architect Andy Wisnoski that the proposed building is too large and doesn’t fit in with the character of the area, which has mostly one- and two-story buildings, and rests between commercial and residential areas.
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As proposed, the Weinerstube building, which houses the longtime restaurant and Ajax Bike and Sports, would be redeveloped into a three-story complex. The entire parcel, which includes the adjacent parking lot, is 18,000 square feet and located at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Spring Street.
The land-use plan, for which the owners already have approval, calls for redeveloping the property into a 47,000-square-foot complex that would house the Weinerstube restaurant for at least 10 years, the bike shop and four or five smaller affordable commercial spaces that would face the alley.
Parking would be available in two sub-grade levels with a total of 47 spaces, and 12 affordable housing units and six free-market condos would be on the upper levels along with additional commercial space.
Clauson and his clients are seeking approval to subdivide the property because the plan involves creating multifamily units, which requires that the building be separated by different ownership interests.
Clauson said it’s frustrating to design a project based on the city’s land-use code, only to have the council say it’s not enough. It makes the entire process expensive and energy consuming.
“If everything is turned upside down and the code [is ignored] it is very hard to counsel clients,” he said. “You think you’ve solved one problem and then another one arises. It’s a very difficult environment.”
After hearing public comment, mostly from neighbors who argued that their views will be ruined by the new building, the council on Monday told Clauson that the view planes must preserved from all sides.
“That had not been discussed at all before,” Clauson said, adding the building was redesigned during the review process to preserve some view planes but not from every individual property. “It’s unclear what kind of project meets all community needs.”
The council also told Clauson to come back with a plan that includes commercial space in the building’s basement.
“Whether it’s in lieu of parking I am not at all entirely clear on,” Clauson said, adding he also is unsure if the council wants a lower building or just reduced in certain areas. “It’s a bit nebulous right now.”
The development team is less enthusiastic about putting commercial businesses below grade because it doesn’t draw people in from the street and presents many challenges in adhering to Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
Some developers say there’s a mixed message coming out of City Hall because elected officials appear to want more than what’s spelled out in the land-use code, which was completely revamped during a recent 18-month moratorium under a different administration.
“We all need to use the land-use code,” Clauson said, adding in some cases, the Weinerstube application exceeds the code, including keeping the affordable housing on site which would be the most in one place in the downtown core.
Clauson also said the building could utilize more space under the code but doesn’t.
“You’ve got a building that is less than what the zone district allows,” Clauson told the council.
Mayor Mick Ireland said the parking offered in the plan is in excess of the land-use code and he would rather see more affordable housing.
“This is better than most applications but there is still a shortfall,” he said.
Councilman Dwayne Romero, who is considered more pro-development than his colleagues on the council, said he was against the project based on the overwhelming criticism against the project by neighbors who said the complex would overshadow them.
“I am moved by that lack of support and that lack of fit [in the area],” he said. “For me, this is not your finest.”
Ireland said he would like to see the project advance, and suggested that Clauson and his development team give a brief presentation and a progress report on Jan. 28 regarding how the project has been redesigned.
“Then we can set a special meeting and get this done,” he said. “I would rather get your project approved than not.”