Aspen City Council gave its first round of feedback on the potential development of the 10.5-acre lumberyard property near the Aspen Airport Business Center on Monday, telling staff to prioritize building housing and asking for more variety in the public outreach tactics being used up to this point.
“It’s probably the largest parcel we have left to do anything with,” said Councilmember Ward Hauenstein, of the opportunity and responsibility required from the planning process.
Earlier this fall, council heard a presentation on public sentiment gathered for what best belongs on the land, but since that time the city has purchased an additional three acres adjacent to the site. The addition of that property, which is now a mini-storage lot, could fundamentally change the connection between the lumberyard parcel and the rest of the neighborhood.
“Now that we have a property that is physically connected to the ABC … we have the ability to improve circulation through the ABC significantly with another kind of relief valve to get in and out of there,” said Jason Jaynes, a principal at DHM Design, the company leading the design work on the project.
Jaynes presented council with the puzzle pieces that could fill out the 10-acre site, differentiating between “needs” and “desires.” Some of the area will have to be dedicated to requirements like setbacks, fire truck turnarounds and stormwater management. In all, discretionary new development could take place on roughly half the property.
He also showed council ways the site might be used, in accordance with public feedback received thus far. Ideas presented by the public include a 35,000-square-foot park and keeping around 1.75 acres for Builders First Source, a building supply business that currently sits on the site and operates the lumberyard.
Council was uniformly not convinced that Builders First Source belonged on the property in the future. Councilmember Rachel Richards stated that the $18.25 million the city paid for the land in 2007 was specifically to add to the affordable housing stock.
“How do we repay the housing fund for land that we run a lumberyard on?” Richards asked.
The council members differed, however, on whether the site should be zoned for some sort of commercial use, such as a potential daycare facility. Councilmember Ann Mullins said she would like to see services in the new neighborhood that benefit its residents. She pointed out that Aspen is down to one gas station and one laundromat.
“You can put a bunch of people out there but you've got to make sure you can support the way they need to live too,” Mullins said. “Because it’s such a large site we really should incorporate a small commercial area. I was envisioning a laundromat, coffee shop, something else.”
Councilmember Skippy Mesirow spoke against mixed-use zoning, saying there are businesses already in the ABC, but that it’s his hope people still travel into central Aspen for their shopping.
“I think we should learn from what I would say are lessons in failure from both Basalt and Snowmass in bifurcating the town and not ending up with two downtowns,” Mesirow said. “We want these individuals to be coming into Aspen for their Aspen experience.”
He agreed with Richards that the one commercial operation he would consider on the site is a childcare facility, but only if facilities being explored at Burlingame housing, Colorado Mountain College and the North Forty fire station fall through.
“You can’t build this many more units for people who may have babies and then not deal with the childcare issue as well,” Richards said.
The council also pushed for more public outreach. In a memo summarizing the outreach to date, affordable housing project manager Chris Everson told council that his team has been emphasizing stakeholder meetings with neighbors in the ABC.
“The team feels it is most responsible to execute this heightened neighborhood focus and communication prior to being able to bring council further-developed site scenarios with confidence,” Everson wrote in a memo.
Mullins asked for a wider variety in demographics as public outreach continues. Mesirow echoed her request.
“Make sure that what we put forward as a proposition is community led, with the inclusion of the neighbors, not neighbor led with the commentary of the community,” Mesirow said.
City Manager Sara Ott thanked the council and the community for being open to what she said was a new way for the city to conduct public outreach. Typically, the design team would bring schematics to the public for a thumbs-up, thumbs-down type dialog. Ott said it was important to get public input well before the renderings phase.
“A lot of times we would have gotten much further along before this was a larger community conversation. So thank you for your patience and for joining us on this new way we are attempting to connect with the community before we ever start showing buildings and site plans,” Ott said.
Public outreach will continue through the winter and spring. Staff would like to have a selection of the preferred development plans by the end of 2020.