Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission denied an application to convert a historically designated miner’s cabin, at 1020 E. Cooper Ave., to a five-unit affordable housing complex during a specially scheduled meeting Wednesday night.
The hearing included more than an hour of public comment, with many neighbors coming forward with concerns about the size of the development. Stephen Abelman, a resident of the five-unit neighboring lot at 1012 E. Cooper Ave., reiterated that a smaller project would be preferred by the neighbors.
“We approve of affordable housing next door, or anywhere in Aspen. We are only asking that the volume of people be much fewer,” he said.
Other neighbors called the 12-bedroom proposal “Animal House ” — in a nod to the 1978 film starring John Belushi — and a “frat house” and expressed concerns about the lifestyles of the future habitants.
“We have to be real about the cannabis, because young adults getting off work are going to come home and smoke pot,” said Kristi Gilliam, who resides in the neighboring Riverside Apartments. She said of the 10-unit building, four of the apartments house members of Aspen's workforce.
Sara Adams, representing developers Jim DeFrancia and Jean Coulter, said her clients were open to stipulating a cap on residency of no more than one non-related adult per bedroom.
The commissioners were able to meet quorum with four members present, but this proved a stymie at the end of the evening when they voted 2-2 on whether to approve the project.
Commissioners Roger Moyer and Scott Kendrick took issue with the three-story building proposed for the back of the lot, which would house a two-bedroom apartment and a three-bedroom apartment, with four covered parking spaces on the ground level. To maintain the original cabin as is, the back building would be a separate structure, set back 10 feet from the cabin.
“I do think it is still too dense for the site, and it still overwhelms the historic resource,” Kendrick said.
Kara Thompson and Jeff Halferty said they sympathized with the neighbors and agreed with their peers that they would prefer a smaller structure in the back. However, they felt it was overstepping the bounds of HPC to deny a fully code-compliant proposal.
“Comparing it to our guidelines, our purview is to protect the historic resource,” Halferty said. “I do think it complies.”
DeFrancia is a private local developer who is seeking to capitalize on the city’s affordable housing certificate program. Electively building affordable housing earns credit from the city that he could sell to other developers in the future, should they need to mitigate for housing.
He said the project would not be financially feasible if the number of units was downsized and fewer credits could be earned. The development team asked the commissioners to take definitive action instead of landing on the 2-2 split.
To move the process forward, Thompson “begrudgingly” joined Moyer and Kendrick in denying the project.
After the meeting, DeFrancia said his team would recollect and make a game plan for where to go next. There is an option for city council to call up the application for review, though they can only remand the project back to HPC; they can not overturn a vote.
DeFrancia said many of the complaints from neighbors heard throughout the review process were better directed at city council. The neighborhood zone allows for dense housing and does not require on-site parking. Additionally, historic designation and affordable housing both come with modified land use codes that allow affordable housing to be built in instances when a free market project may not comply.
“No development is in a position to solve broad existing community problems,” he said. “We are thoroughly confused how a municipal body turns down a fully compliant — in every aspect of the word — project.”