Giving breaks on housing requirements and building permit fees is one thing, but relaxing rules on height and mass may be a bridge too far for Aspen City Council members looking to encourage the renovation and redevelopment of existing lodges and condo complexes.
The council on Monday met in a work session to talk details on what incentives the city should offer to owners looking to upgrade Aspen’s aging tourism infrastructure. The city’s planning office has come up with a range of options, from minor tweaks to the current land-use approval system, to radical departures from the often arduous rules.
Aspen is looking for ways to help owners of existing lodges and condo complexes upgrade their properties. A recent study of Aspen’s lodging inventory showed that the ski town is losing ground to competing resorts, which are investing more in new hot beds. Condos make up 40 percent of Aspen’s tourist bed base.
The general consensus was to start slow, focusing on incentives related to reducing fees and streamlining the review and approval process. Any loosening of height, massing and zoning rules would have more permanent effects, and should be undertaken with the utmost caution, council members said.
However, some council members said they would be willing to consider minor height variances if it meant a redeveloped building could have more generous ceiling heights on the top floor. Some council members said they would consider allowing redevelopment projects to add additional floors in certain situations.
Council members also wanted to take a crack at reducing the time and expense it takes to get projects through the land use process. One way to do that would be combining the reviews of advisory boards, such as the planning and zoning and historic preservation commissions, or at least running them concurrently.
But Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilwoman Ann Mullins, both of whom served on advisory boards, cautioned that combining the reviews could be a problem, leading to a work environment that isn’t constructive, Skadron said.
Councilman Dwayne Romero urged city staff to get feedback on the idea from members of the advisory boards.
“If [they] say, ‘Guess what, this is a five-headed duck and it’s not going to work very well,’ then we will step back,” Romero said.
Council members were not comfortable with an idea to place a time limit on land use reviews that would lead to an automatic approval if an application is not decided when the clock stops ticking.
City staff will bring back specific details at a later date, but incentives could include a 25 to 75 percent reduction in building permit fees, waiving or reduction of other review fees and a break on employee housing requirements. Lodge and condo redevelopment applications also could be moved to the front of the line in the planning and building permit review process.
City Manager Steve Barwick said the fee waivers would have just a “subtle” effect on the city budget if properties gradually came forward over a 10-year period. But if too many lodges and condos came forward at once, the fee waivers could lead to budget shortfalls, not to mention too much concurrent construction that could have negative quality-of-life consequences.