With HPC’s blessing, Aspen in line to get more worker housing

Developers of miner’s cabin property get OK from Historic Preservation Commission after latest round of changes

Affordable housing developers are appealing the denial of their proposal for the five-unit housing complex at 1020 E Cooper Ave. in Aspen. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The proposed redevelopment of a historically land-marked East Cooper Avenue property into four living units designated for Aspen employees won unanimous support Wednesday from the Historic Preservation Commission.

By eliminating one unit and reducing the size and scale of a worker-housing complex proposed for 1020 E. Cooper Ave., located on the outskirts of downtown and three blocks from City Market, the development team’s revised application not only tilted the scales of support on the HPC, it also won the verbal support from the condo association that had sued over the approval process for the project.

Jim DeFrancia, who is co-developing the property with partner Jean Coulter, called previous public and HPC feedback “valuable” in making the adjustments needed to gain the proposal’s acceptance. At the HPC’s hearing on the application on Aug. 25, the board was split 2-2, with dissenting members Roger Moyer and Jodi Surfas saying they could not support it due to their concerns over its height and size.

DeFrancia said Wednesday he wished it would have been five units that were approved, but “we’re still providing some very good quality affordable housing in a terrific location.”

Project proponents touted the proposal as one desperately needed for Aspen when worker-housing availability is greatly limited and even exacerbated because of the pandemic and escalating home and rental prices.

“We all know that; we all feel that,” said Sara Adams of the Aspen firm BendonAdams, the project’s planning representative.

The four deed-restricted units will have 12 bedrooms — one 2-bedroom unit, two 3-bedroom units, and one 4-bedroom unit. Including storage space, the four units will combine to cover 4,545 square feet.

Two of the units, one with two bedrooms and the other with three, will be located in the existing historic structure on the property — a 19th century miner’s cabin once owned and lived in by the late Aspen Times columnist Su Lum. The cabin will be moved to allow for the addition of a basement to the property.

“The existing home, except for a non-historic porch at the rear, is to be moved approximately 11′ forward and 2′ eastward,” according to a memo to the HPC from city Planner Kevin Rayes and Planning Director Amy Simon. “It will be placed on a new basement and will be elevated slightly above the current relationship to grade to allow for positive drainage to be created.”

The memo added: “Staff finds that the relocation criteria are met as the re-positioning of the building on the site does not diminish its integrity or disrupt its relationship with nearby historic resources and it allows new construction on the site to be adequately distanced from the miner’s cottage while complying with all setback requirements.”

Behind the cabin, a stand-alone building with two units would be built, while the two non-historic sheds in the rear of the property would be demolished. Two parking sites also are slated for the development.

The two-story back building with the two units will top out at 23 feet, 8.5 inches, a reduction from the highest version of what had been a three-unit structure proposed to stand 29 feet, 8.5 inches.

Moyer could not attend the meeting due to a personal issue that left Surfas on the board with the two HPC members who voted in support of the project at the August meeting — Kara Thompson and Jeffrey Halferty. Board member Peter Fornell has recused himself from the ongoing proceedings due to a conflict, along with first alternate Sheri Sanzone.

This time, however, Surfas appeared satisfied with the application’s alterations.

“I was very happy to see this packet (with the project’s revised application), the changes that were made,” she said. “I think it’s a great improvement and I’m in full support of the current design.”

Halftery and Thompson also did not waver in their support.

“I do think this is an improvement of even what we had seen before,” Thompson said, “so I’m very happy with the changes as well.”

Previous HPC hearings on the matter — held Jan. 13, Feb. 17 and in August — drew fierce opposition from neighbors. Yet not this time.

“With this reduced mass and scale in this amended application, the neighbors that I represent are in support, so long as those conditions are satisfied and adhered to,” said Chris Bryan, one of the attorneys for the Cooper Avenue Victorian Condominium Association, a collection of condo owners who live next door to the property.

The outcome of the Feb. 17 hearing, which resulted in a 3-1 denial of the proposal, was negated after the Aspen City Council, responding April 19 to an appeal from the development team, concluded the HPC showed bias in its decision-making process. The City Council’s decision to remand the matter the HPC also sparked litigation from neighbors against the project.

With the proposal before the HPC again in August, neighbors remained generally against it, and the board couldn’t reach a consensus either.

Yet that tug-of-war has ended for now. Litigation has been dismissed, and the HPC’s blessing Tuesday covered approvals for conceptual major development, relocation, demolition, growth management, certificate of affordable housing, transportation and parking management. Final design will still need to go through the approval process.