Aspen east-side residents in the vicinity of Park and Midland avenues are expressing concern over two affordable-housing projects they believe will add dozens of cars to neighborhood streets that are already crammed.
One project, a redevelopment of 404 Park Ave., received city approval in 2017 for 56 bedrooms and 28 off-street parking spaces. Nearby, the second project, the redevelopment of Aspen Hills Condos at 331-338 Midland Ave., calls for 26 bedrooms and 17 off-street parking spaces. That project is scheduled to be discussed at an Aspen Planning & Zoning Commission meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Dismayed residents say the number of parking spaces assigned to the projects is inadequate. One “call to action” states that combined, the two projects will mean no off-street parking assigned to 48 bedrooms, but the math is incorrect: With a total of 82 bedrooms and 45 designated parking spaces, the perceived shortfall appears to be 37.
That difference may be splitting hairs in an area that officials and residents all say lacks adequate parking and clearly defined regulations.
“That’s 48 bedrooms without parking on a street with 16 spaces that are already totally utilized by existing development,” says a notice from a resident of Midland Park Place. “Picture this: Take a very dense neighborhood with existing parking challenges and very narrow streets and then drop in 50 [additional] cars without spaces.”
The letter goes on to suggest a city that’s bending over backwards, at the expense of other residents, to accommodate affordable-housing development.
“This has gone too far in the name of affordable housing: Let us rethink the balance of the needs in this community,” the notice says. “YES, we desperately need affordable housing, and YES, we desperately need parking, and YES we desperately need livable neighborhoods. We need better solutions and the existing codes do not provide what we need.”
The issue recently was brought to the attention of the Aspen City Council when, at last Monday’s meeting, Cindy Houben, Pitkin County’s community development director, spoke up.
Speaking as a resident of Midland Park Place, Houben said that city codes allow the affordable-housing projects to be “underparked” by 40 percent.
“That means there will be at least 50 cars that will be ‘underparked’ for that area,” Houben said. “Midland Park itself has one space per bedroom. It would be like taking Midland Park and saying, ‘We’re doing away with all the parking. Good luck, neighborhood.’ That’s what we wanted to bring to your attention.”
Compounding the issue are the nebulous street-parking rules said to be in place for the area, which tend to allow residents and others to park in the same spot indefinitely, some residents pointed out in emails and photographs sent to council and P&Z.
Houben said the city should consider code changes as a remedy and expressed worry that the situation will lead to “chaos,” setting back future attempts to develop affordable housing in the city.
Jessica Garrow, the city’s community development director, said city code doesn’t actually allow “underparking” for residential developments. The rules allow for a mix of on-site parking, an accounting for multi-modal transportation so that vehicles aren’t used for daily travel, and cash-in-lieu that equates to $38,000 per space.
As the discussion continued, the question arose as to whether council can call up projects relating to affordable-housing developments approved by P&Z. Garrow said it’s not possible for council to review them because the call-up procedure only applies to commercial and historic-preservation projects.
However, if P&Z denies a residential application, the developer can appeal to the council, Garrow said.
Council members Adam Frisch and Ann Mullins also weighed in on the issue. Both are running for mayor in the March 5 election.
Frisch said the street congestion in the Midland-Park area is a fundamental problem separate from the development issue, and the city can tackle it in the short term by creating new rules and clearer signage.
As for changes to the land-use code relating to development and parking, that will take much longer, and the rules won’t apply retroactively, he and other officials noted.
Frisch said city staff and parking director Mitch Osur already have been looking into the congestion issue.
“It’s not an ideal situation [there], and it’s turned into one of the many ‘intercept lots’ we now see around town in many residential areas,” he said. “We’ve all been focused on that and scratching our heads [about] why that zone hasn’t been looked at from that standpoint.”
Mullins said she recently visited the area and the parking problem is worse in the winter because of snow piles taking away several parking spaces that are available other times of year.
Speaking to the issue of development approvals and parking, Mullins said the city should consider revisiting the land-use code. “If we really want to build more affordable housing, we need to figure out the parking challenge,” she said.
Houben asked whether the council is allowed to overturn a P&Z decision based on the “health, safety and welfare” considerations of the community. City Attorney Jim True said it couldn’t.
Garrow said neighbors have sometimes appealed decisions made by another board, but she wasn’t certain whether it would be applicable in the current case.
“We think that there need to be adjustments to the parking code and we hope to bring those forward as suggested work-program items for council later in the year,” she added. “But not now, and it would not apply to this project.”
Another neighborhood resident chimed in to say that he was tired of responsible residents being abused by the parking problem. He said there is little or no parking enforcement in the Midland-Park area, in effect allowing people to leave their broken-down cars, motorcycle trailers and recreational vehicles on the street for months at a time.