Wienerstube fails, but not dead yet
ASPEN A plan to redevelop the Wienerstube building at the corner of Spring Street and Hyman Avenue failed to win approval Monday night from a three-person City Council.With Council Members J.E. DeVilbiss and Jasmine Tygre absent because of conflicts of interest, the project needed a unanimous vote from the remaining three to earn approval. Councilman Torre, however, said he couldn’t support the project, despite several major changes developers had made since their last presentation before the council Feb. 12.The building’s owners, 633 Spring II LLC, had to do more than meet the city’s codes, however. They were asking the council to give them five multiyear “allotments” for the free-market residential component of the project, a request that required the project be deemed “exceptional,” rather than merely meeting the minimum code requirements. (The city allows only a limited number of free-market residential allotments per year as means for controlling growth.)The proposal included 12 for-sale affordable housing units, all above ground, that could house up to 27 people. Aspen’s codes required that the project “mitigate” for 25.9 people, either with on-site affordable housing or with a cash in lieu payment to the city’s housing fund.The developers proposed building all of the required affordable housing on-site, a “very rare” suggestion in a town where most developers offer a mix of on-site housing and cash in lieu to make up the difference, according to Community Development Director Chris Bendon.But that wasn’t enough to sway Torre, who felt the extra 1.1 people didn’t rise to the standard of “exceptional.”Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Jack Johnson, however, were impressed with the developer’s attempts to offer more than the usual project.”I think it is a major plus that you’re providing housing on site,” Klanderud said.Johnson liked that fact that the developers proposed the affordable housing components on their own, without prompting from the city. He also appreciated other changes to the project since the last meeting, including an effort to find a home in the new building for the bike shop in the current Wienerstube building; the high quality of the affordable housing units and the range of prices (categories 2-4); and architectural changes to break up the mass of the project.Those architectural changes entailed using patios and alcoves to make the building more dynamic, as well as slicing straight through the center to create a north-south walkway down the middle of the one-time behemoth that would occupy both the current Wienerstube location and the adjacent parking lot to the west.The new walkway allowed developers to add commercial space with access between the buildings and perhaps from the back alley that would, theoretically, be leased at “affordable” rates.The council has discussed the need for more affordable commercial space within the city, and consultants it hired several years ago suggested using alleys to that end.Klanderud said she applauded the efforts to incorporate alley commercial space into the project, but Torre remained unimpressed since there was no guarantee that rents would remain low.Wienerstube owner Kevin Willson currently has a 10-year lease for his space, which would transfer to the new building, but he said Steven Marcus, one of the building’s owners, denied his request for an option to extend the lease an additional 10 years. Without those guarantees, he said, he would have to assume the rent will go up. There would be no way to relocate the restaurant anywhere in town, he said. (DeVilbiss recused himself from the vote because he regularly eats at the Wienerstube.)Members of the public in attendance were split on the project. Several people were concerned about the height and scale of the project, and several neighbors complained that they would lose their views of Aspen Mountain.Charlie Tarver, who owns the Hub of Aspen bike shop several blocks away, however, reminded those neighbors that “people don’t own the views.”Johnson reiterated the numerous concessions the developers had already made and thanked Torre for pushing them to continue to improve the project. But he suggested that continuing to ask them to reduce the height might be too much.”Now we want the height lowered and to maintain the mountain views,” he said. “Maybe we ought to ask them to solve the Entrance to Aspen issue, too.”Torre, however, remained unmoved and exercised his power with a three-member council to singlehandedly deny the project.”I don’t think it’s really that exceptional,” he said. “But you’re close.”The 2-1 vote constitutes a denial in this case, Bendon said, but the project can still be resuscitated. Johnson or Klanderud can make a motion to reconsider it. “We are really eager to work with Torre to come up with something,” said Stan Clauson, whose firm is representing the owners. “But we can’t do something that’s illegal or physically impossible with respect to the building.”If neither Johnson nor Klanderud moves to reconsider the project by the end of the next regular meeting, the project will be dead, and the developers will have to wait to submit any new proposal until after the current building moratorium is lifted, when it will be subject to any new codes the council adopts.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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