Castle Creek residents’ plea falls short at Aspen P&Z meeting
Members of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission, caught off guard at their Tuesday meeting by a contingent of Castle Creek Road residents against a nearby affordable-housing project, still recommended the project for approval by the City Council.
Dick Butera, Joe Wells and an attorney for the Castle Creek Caucus, among other opponents, failed to convince Planning and Zoning to recommend denial of the project they said is too dense, too tall, would have too many parking spaces and would diminish the entrance into the peaceful, scenic area that extends to the Ashcroft ghost town and beyond.
“It’s tough to hear certain public comment that hits us right before we have to start deliberating,” said planning member Spencer McKnight moments before the board voted 5-0 recommending City Council approve the project.
The Community Development Department also recommended approval on the basis that it met the city’s review standards.
The Planning and Zoning board’s frustration was chiefly because numerous open houses and public discussions have been held concerning three employee-housing projects proposed through a public-private partnership between the city and Aspen Housing Partners LLC. Along the way, the development team has acted on public feedback by reducing the number of units for both projects at 802 W. Main St. and 517 Park Circle, but it heard just a scant number of comments from Castle Creek-area residents, Planning and Zoning members said.
“The Castle Creek comments were much fewer and less focused on what would be acceptable,” said Jason Bradshaw of Aspen Housing Partnership.
Castle Creek residents, however, said they didn’t receive notice of the outreach meetings because they live in the county, not in city limits where the project is being considered.
“Most of the people are county residents and didn’t get proper notice,” Butera said. “And the nature of my neighbors is they’re not here a lot, so it’s pretty understandable” they didn’t attend the open houses.
The planning meeting came a day after the City Council unanimously approved, on its second and final reading Monday, an 11-unit project that will be built on city-owned land at the base of Smuggler Mountain on Park Circle. That development also is a joint effort between the city and Aspen Housing Partnership.
With 28 units — 18 one-bedrooms and 10 two-bedrooms — and a total project area of 35,985 square feet, the 488 Castle Creek Road development is the largest employee-apartment complex among the three. The vacant property’s status allows for a lot split and has approvals for two single-family homes and one affordable-housing unit. The property, just up Castle Creek Road from Aspen Valley Hospital and overlooking the Marolt Ranch housing complex, is zoned for moderate-density residential with a planned development overlay. The City Council would be required to rezone it to allow for the development and merger of the two lots.
Butera, who once owned Hotel Jerome and the Aspen Club and has lived in the Castle Creek Valley for more than 35 years, said, “I’ve never seen anything like this proposal. If it were in the core of dense neighborhoods, it is still something that I would be surprised about.”
Butera went on to suggest the city’s $5.4 million purchase of the Castle Creek property in June 2007 was bad business, which might explain the density of the project. The seller, Carbondale-based WF Castle Creek, was a limited liability company that acquired the same undeveloped land for $3.4 million in October 2006, according to property records.
“Did our government think there was something special about this property so they could pay $5.4 million for a half-acre?” he said. “And I don’t know, and nobody knows … but the proposal to build 28 apartments on a net-useable area of the site which is a little more than a half acre, that’s equivalent to a density of 51 apartments per acre. I don’t think there’s suburban apartment developments at 50 an acre anywhere in Pitkin County and, in fact, anywhere in Denver.”
Another aspect of the project Butera criticized was its cost — $14.9 million for the development along with what the city paid for the land.
“So the cost of the project is … $20,322,000, or $725,000 per unit for employee affordable housing,” he said.
He added, “Why is this happening, and why are we at 28 units on half an acre? I hope it’s not to recover a mistake of paying $5.4 million. The more units you put on the property when you buy your land, the less the land costs.”
An attorney for the Maroon Creek Caucus, Kristi Ferraro, also spoke out against the project saying she disagreed that it met review standards.
“We believe this project is not sensitive to the scale and character of the neighborhood, as shown by the many challenges it poses,” she said.
Wells said, “I have no problem with affordable housing built on the site. I do have concerns about the heights of the proposal, the density and the parking solution.”
Wells suggested that because the project is rental housing, “then tenants could be prevented from using cars” or the developers could find off-site parking for the dwellers.
Yet Planning and Zoning members said the development’s maximum height of 42 feet over four levels would not be visible from Castle Creek, but they did suggest that City Council seek other alternatives for the proposed 29 parking spaces.
“The main problem with this project, which I’m generally in favor of, is the parking,” said board member Jasmine Tygre. “Because that’s what affects the density when it comes to an impact on the neighborhood. The height is not an issue. The people who are going see the four stories are the people in Marolt (the housing complex below the proposal).”
One of her suggestions was underground parking.
The planning board expressed little sympathy for the project’s foes, and appeared put off by their last-minute charge.
“The building is pretty well-hidden, it’s not exactly in your face, and they’re not exactly in your back yard,” board member Keith Goode said.
Said McKnight: “I struggle finding what the real issues are … I understand the parking situation, but when it comes to the density issues, what are the issues? Are they community issues or personal issues for these people who have had homes as long as they have had?”
Planning and Zoning chairman Skippy Mesirow agreed.
“It seems to be our job to pass along our recommendation to City Council in light of all of this commentary that has come in late.”
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