Aspen City Council has put off until 2013 a decision on new downtown height limits and permitted uses.
Council discussed proposed zoning changes at Monday’s meeting that would allow only lodges and commercial uses to be three stories tall, and would ban further development of free-market condos. The changes also would ban third stories of any kind on the south side of the street, in an effort to prevent tall buildings from casting shadows in the winter that lead to snow and ice build-up on the streets.
There is concern among some on city staff that banning third stories on the south side of the street while continuing to allow them on the north side would open the zoning code up to a legal challenge.
Council members continued the discussion until a Jan. 14 meeting in part to allow City Attorney Jim True to research the issue.
Sentiment about the zoning changes looks mixed on the board, with councilmen Derek Johnson and Adam Frisch appearing more resistant to the changes than their colleagues.
Buildings could previously be as high as 42 feet tall in the downtown core, but council passed a downzoning ordinance in April capping all heights at 28 feet. Prior to the new law taking effect, eight applications were submitted for new three-story buildings or additions.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland argued that the “infill” zoning codes passed a decade ago, which allowed 42-foot-high buildings, have failed in their effort to create vitality. Ireland cited U.S. Census figures that show lower rates of local and individual ownership in downtown buildings, as well as higher vacancies in downtown residential units, in the last 10 years.
He said that keeping building heights low adds to Aspen’s niche as a resort market “offering someone an organic product for which they are paying a premium. ... We are not trying to out-Vail Vail.”
Ireland was referring to the competing resort’s 80-foot building height limits.
Johnson argued that restricting the heights of downtown buildings leads to a higher cost of doing business. Frisch offered that free-market condos are often the economic driver for building reinvestment or replacement.
Councilman Steve Skadron said Aspen’s downtown commercial scene has become a “high-end shopping mall” and that infill codes are partially to blame.