Aspen City Council on Monday criticized a proposed ordinance that would limit downtown free-market residential units and building heights for not being strict enough.
The proposed ordinance would allow for 38- or 40-foot-tall buildings in the commercial core zone district, and 36- or 38-foot-high buildings in the outlying C-1 zone. Council would still have discretion and would not have to approve all applications that come in at those heights.
Council instituted a 28-foot height limit in April. Prior to the new limit, heights up to 38 feet were allowed by right to developers.
The proposal from the city’s community development department also outlines six different options for limiting free-market residential units in the commercial core and C-1 zones. The option that is preferred by city staff and written in the proposed ordinance, allows one free-market unit of up to 2,000 square feet in historical buildings. The unit would be an incentive for developers to preserve the historic building, said city long-range planner Jessica Garrow.
Other options include limiting all properties to one free-market unit of 2,000 square feet and only allowing free-market units when equal amounts of affordable housing are provided on-site.
Mayor Mick Ireland said he will not support any exceptions for developers to build free-market units and the only building-height exception should be granted to those developing hotels. Those hotels also should be limited to the north side of the street so that they don’t obstruct views, he said.
Councilman Steve Skadron said he wasn’t sure if he is in support of an ordinance that creates an incentive for developers to build free-market units on historical buildings, and he questioned whether to allow those penthouses to have rooftop decks.
“I think it creates exclusivity that is detrimental to small-town character,” Skadron said.
Councilman Torre agreed with Skadron’s assessment and said he wasn’t in support of any free-market residential units in the core.
Councilman Adam Frisch said he didn’t think developers would immediately opt to preserve historic buildings just because the free-market option is on the table. There needs to be some incentives for preservation, otherwise developers won’t do it, he said.
“If there’s not some kind of incentive in some shape or form ... then the buildings will begin to fall apart over time,” Frisch said.
Council needs to have a better understanding of what authority it has in preserving historic buildings without having to negotiate with developers, Torre said. Council could have benefited from having that knowledge when it was trying to preserve the historic Benton building and the building that houses the Little Annie’s Eating House, he said. Earlier this year, the property owner offered to preserve the structures as long as council allowed the developer to build a controversial three-story building with a penthouse on top adjacent to the properties.
“We entered into negotiations that got us some preservations,” Torre said. “But we came out of it not knowing if we even needed to enter negotiations.”
Councilman Derek Johnson said he still didn’t think that he had enough information about the restriction’s long-term effects or about how the community felt about it.
Garrow said city officials have spent months collecting feedback from the community on the process. After council instituted the 28-foot height limit, it initiated a process during the summer to get community input and council members outlined their desires for the zoning changes in an August meeting. City planning staff crafted the ordinance based on that feedback.
“We’re happy to do more public outreach,” Garrow said. “But we’re not sure what that would look like.”
The 28-foot height limit prompted a slew of property owners to submit development applications before the law went into effect. Eight of the 11 downtown development applications are seeking some kind of new third-story element, with most of them being free-market condos.
The second reading of the ordinance will be discussed on Nov. 26.
Council went into executive session at the end of Monday’s meeting to discuss negotiations for the USA Pro Challenge cycling race, potential litigation and a personnel matter.