Aspen developer Mark Hunt is proposing to scrape and replace the city’s sole strip mall with a three-story, mixed-use structure consisting of free-market rental units and essential businesses.
During sketch review at a joint Aspen City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission work session Monday evening, Hunt and his team presented redevelopment plans for the properties at 465 and 557 N. Mill St. Hunt purchased the property — which is zoned service-commercial-industrial (SCI) for community-serving businesses — in 2018 for $15 million. Among the SCI tenants on the property are a laundromat, a second-hand sports store and a bike shop.
The proposed redevelopment includes 63,220 square feet of residential area and 34,100 square feet of commercial space. He and his design and architectural team, which includes Aspen’s Sarah Broughton and New York- and New Orleans-based Morris Adjmi, noted that the proposal is 30,000 square feet less than the allotted floor area ratio.
Hunt said Monday that the pandemic largely informed the plan’s residential component, which is not permitted under SCI zoning. In addition to the apartments and SCI area, the proposal also includes “amenities” for the residential tenants that would also be available to the public. A “decent size” gym, pool and food vendor were cited as examples.
“We’re looking for things that not only service the community but also service the potential tenants living there,” Hunt said. He and his team throughout the meeting emphasized Aspen’s need for more free-market rentals. The trend of urban-dwellers escaping their respective cities to move to Aspen served to highlight and further compound the situation, Hunt said.
Citing third-party research from the Pitkin County Assessor’s office, Broughton said Aspen altogether boasts 1,709 rental units, of which only 4% are categorized as free market.
“What that report says is we have a dire need in our community for rental apartments. And it’s only getting worse,” Broughton said, pointing to the online rental market and the pandemic as factors. “I truly believe there is a need for this in our community, and I truly believe with these conversations, we can get there.”
With more than a dozen total council members and commissioners participating in the virtual meeting, there was no shortage of feedback on Hunt’s proposal. And although no one appeared to dispute the sentiment that Aspen desperately needs more free-market rentals, a few council and P&Z members raised concern with sacrificing Aspen’s SCI footprint for added residential space.
While calling the reduction of the SCI square footage from the current structure “unfortunate,” P&Z vice chair Teraissa McGovern said the proposal “feels like another Obermeyer [Place] to me, and that feels inappropriate.”
Piggybacking on McGovern’s comment, commission member Jimmy Marcus pointed out that if the purpose of the SCI zone is to support community-serving businesses, lumping luxury apartments into that is “a bit of a stretch.”
Councilmember Ann Mullins, who also advocated for protecting the properties’ SCI space, said the concept would be better suited for another site. Mullins and Councilmember Rachel Richards also took issue with the lack of on-site affordable housing, which Hunt proposed be located at his development at 404 Park Ave.
Mullins complimented the plan’s architectural elements, which she said reminded her of Base One.
Drawing inspiration in part from the neighboring Smuggler Mine, the redevelopment’s facade and structure calls for a reclaimed heavy timber, Adjmi said.
At the conclusion of the three-hour discussion, Aspen Mayor Torre said “the proportions are a bit out of whack” but that he supports continuing the conversation.
“In overall essence, I do support what you’ve brought forward,” Torre said, “but I do think it needs some amendment.”