Growth dominates Aspen community plan discussion

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— A roundtable of local officials met Wednesday to sharpen goals that eventually will become part of the Aspen Area Community Plan.

Items brought up during the City Hall work session included affordable-housing mitigation, on-site housing, the pace of construction and house sizes. Members of the Aspen City Council, Pitkin Board of County Commissioners and the planning and zoning commissions for the city and county participated in the talks.

The plan, which local officials hope to adopt by April, will serve as a road map for future policy decisions by the governmental entities involved in shaping it. While it will essentially function as a guide for local governments — created with input from the community — it also will carry some regulatory weight, according to Cindy Houben, Pitkin County community development director.

“The input (of the local officials) is really critical because the plan won’t be implemented unless they agree with it,” Houben said.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, who acted as moderator, said he thinks that Wednesday’s gathering was successful. Much of the meeting dealt with issues of growth management — not a high priority amid the current economic slowdown — but something likely to rise in importance in the near future.

“I think the big lesson of today was learning from mistakes of the past,” Ireland said. “The community has had growth management for 40 years, and we will continue to have it. But the things that we manage are going to be more sophisticated.

“We are building mechanisms that will allow us to respond more quickly when things get out of hand.”

The idea of pacing construction projects to reduce noise, traffic and other ill effects on the community sparked a few comments. Though Aspen is not expected to see the type of busy summer construction seasons prevalent from 2005-07 anytime soon, officials want to be prepared for the time when construction does pick up steam.

County Commissioner Ra­­­chel Richards said she studied the issue as a city councilwoman a few years ago and found it tricky.

“You can’t impose your will upon the market,” she said. “It’s hard to tell people they can’t do their project, they have to wait.”

In the end, the group decided against the concept of rationing building permits when things get busy, Ireland said.

“Where I think we ended up was that we should have a trigger point when we get to levels of construction that are around the clock, or the streets are clogged, and people can’t sleep because of the jackhammers,” he said.

For instance, he said, Sat­urdays could become off-limits for building, and weekday construction hours could be curtailed.

“If we have those rules in place, then when an emergency happens, we already know what we’re going to do instead of trying to devise things hurriedly,” Ireland said.

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