Conceptual approvals granted by advisory boards for two downtown redevelopments have been called into question by Aspen City Council, as elected officials struggle with design and character issues presented by the glut of new building proposals submitted in the spring.
Council will revisit the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval of the project at 422 E. Cooper Ave., which is the Red Onion annex building containing a poster shop. The Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of a renovation and expansion of 616 E. Hyman Ave. also was “called up” at Monday’s council meeting.
At the Nov. 26 meeting, council members will decide whether to remand the approvals back to the advisory boards.
The call-up process attempts to strike a balance between delegating authority over design elements to the review boards, which specialize in such matters, and still allowing council to keep an eye on the results and manage the guidelines those boards use to reach decisions. The call-up procedure is designed to focus also on the scale and mass of a building.
In the case of the Red Onion annex, the building’s owners are proposing to replace the structure with a three-story building, which would step back from the facade on the top two floors. The Historic Preservation Commission voted to approve the plan, but Councilman Steve Skadron had issues with the project being in the Wheeler Opera House’s protected view plane.
The project could be allowed an exemption from the view plane under city rules, since there are other, taller buildings between it and the Wheeler. Skadron had trouble with this logic, however, likening it to saying a river is already polluted, so it’s OK to pollute it some more.
The 616 E. Hyman Ave. project would add a third floor to an existing two-story office building.
Councilman Torre admitted he was “not OK” with the design, but that he was “limited” in his ability to dictate aesthetic taste from the council table.
He reiterated his sentiment, expressed previously, that he is seeing a sea change coming to downtown design and character with much of the new development that has been proposed and recently approved.
“I’m concerned with the lack of regulation on this,” Torre said. “We have no oversight and we won’t be able to choose the character and feel of downtown and that is concerning to me.”
In the weeks prior to a 28-foot height limit on downtown buildings taking effect in April, developers submitted nine applications for three-story buildings. Many of those applications, including 616 E. Hyman Ave., use large amounts of glass as a design element on the facade. This in particular has led Torre and Skadron to question some of the designs.
At Monday’s meeting, city planning director Chris Bendon offered an explanation of the phenomenon. Glass technology has made great leaps forward recently, he said, and the material can now be used as a major element in a facade without the building’s inhabitants being too cold.