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Public weighs in on development moratorium

Jessica Garrow
Courtesy Photo

Five months into a ban on new construction in the downtown and surrounding areas, city officials want to know what your Aspen should look like.

The City of Aspen’s moratorium on downtown development is full of jargon like “land use code” “commercial design standards,” and “use mix.” These are all terms used regularly if you are a planner or a developer but may scare away those who aren’t. Especially because comments received right now will direct the future character of Aspen.

On a recent afternoon, community development director Jessica Garrow and her staff handed out freeze-pops in the Yellow Brick’s playground, hoping to entice children and their parents to come over to a large display adorned with photos of Aspen’s iconic buildings and a big chalkboard for visitor comments.

Credit Jessica Garrow / Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo
An ideas board is part of the Aspen Community Development's pop up outreach during the moratorium, feedback can also be given online.

“We wanted to try and expand where we are getting feedback,” said Garrow. “We thought it was really important to get a different group of folks who were also locals, to just see what they think about some of these issues as we get ready to update the land use code.”

The land use code is like the constitution for development. The regulations it contains lay out what type of buildings are allowed, what they can be used for, and what they look like. Two recent citizen petitions were directly related to new growth in Aspen — last fall’s ballot question on the Base 2 Lodge, and the previous spring’s referendum about giving developers breaks from the code.

Right now though, another issue has taken the forefront of citizen complaints: parking.

Ideas for solutions range from putting a parking garage under Wagner Park to designating more one-way streets. Almost four hundred people have given their opinion about the moratorium since it was put in place this past winter. Along with pop ups like the one at the Yellow Brick, an interactive website is updated regularly and encourages public feedback.

According to a preliminary report done by city hired consultants, locals said they don’t drive into town, instead electing to commute by bike or on foot. This counters the recent complaints from parents, who point out walking is out of the question with multiple young children and multiple bags of groceries.

Feedback is also mixed on prominent structures in town with vocal proponents and detractors of the Aspen Art Museum, while the walking malls and the Wheeler Opera House were described as “crowd favorites.”

City councilman Adam Frisch was instrumental in implementing the surprise moratorium. He said this development break is a crucial time for the public to have their voice heard.

“One of the ways you should judge successful legislation is how long the rules stay in place for so my dream is this is the last moratorium ever,” he said. “It’s a once in a half-a-generation chance to really weigh in.”

It’s especially important for those who don’t completely agree with the city’s vision for downtown, which includes restricting buildings to two stories, eliminating free-market housing in many areas, and pushing for small local artisanal shops in the commercial core.

Land use planner and former city planner Stan Clauson has left comments throughout the moratorium website. He has seen scores-of-decades-worth of change in Aspen, and encourages residents to speak up while they can.

“I think it’s a little unfortunate because we started out with a concept that we could have free market residential, we could have affordable housing, we could have restaurants and bars, all commingled within the downtown districts,” he said. “We've had some hiccups in that process (and) we've moved away from that, but I think we’ve moved away prematurely.”

The free-market component within commercial buildings in the downtown core has created what some city officials say are “dead zones” because quiet residential living conflicts with vitality and nightlife.

Clauson fears an overcompensation of sanctions. A pendulum created by previous land use code changes that encouraged new building in the downtown core may swing toward another unintended consequence.

Community development staff and elected officials will continue to solicit public comment throughout the summer at the farmers market, future “pop-ups” and the interactive website. The moratorium is expected to be lifted in early 2017.


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