By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Carbondale’s trustees on Tuesday unanimously affirmed approvals for a residential redevelopment project at 191 Sopris Ave., originally approved by the planning and zoning commission, ending months of controversy over a proposal to replace an aging one-story house with a two-story four-plex of rental apartments that had generated intense opposition from some neighbors.
The project was approved by the P&Z last December, but a band of neighbors, lead by Brigitte Heller, whose house at 226 S. 2nd St. sits across an alley from the project site, appealed that approval to the board of trustees.
Over the course of three hearings before the trustees, and several hearings last year before the P&Z, the neighbors argued that the project was too tall and too massive to fit into the neighborhood.
But the developer, River Valley Ranch resident Kim Kelley and her company, Sopris Properties LLC, countered that the plans conform to the town’s in-fill development guidelines, and that they had reduced the height and mass of the house as well as making changes to the interior and exterior designs of the building in efforts to placate their neighbors.
At the meeting on Tuesday, numerous supporters of the project, some from the neighborhood but most from other parts of town, stood up and urged the trustees to approve the project and let it be built.
A smaller number of critics, mostly from the immediate neighborhood, again voiced the collective opinion that the building, as proposed, is still too high and too massive to fit in with its surroundings.
Following the vote to approve the project, Heller said, “I am not happy, but I will just live my life like I did” before the controversy arose.
“I don’t think it was a good decision,” she said of the trustees’ vote, which she felt was driven by worries over what might be built at the site if the project were denied.
Heller’s daughter, Barbara Sophia Ulrych of Redstone, also was not happy about the decision.
“It’s not how we would have hoped it would go, but it’s better than it was at the beginning,” she said, referring to the changes to the project plans.
And, she said, “a lot of good came out of it, because they (the trustees) see that there’s a real problem with zoning,” problems that should be addressed as the town rewrites its land-use review codes to match recent revisions to the Carbondale Comprehensive Plan.
The development team, made up of attorneys Kelcey Nichols and Joslyn Wood, planner Mark Chain and architect Jess Pedersen, quietly slapped backs and shook hands in congratulations for finally getting the project approved.
As approved, the plan calls for a four-plex containing 5,081 square feet of habitable space, including two garages, on a lot of just over 8,200 square feet in size, at the intersection of Sopris and South 2nd Street.
The proposed building, as most recently modified, is to be 24 feet high at the roof’s mid-span (26.6 at the roof peak) according to Pedersen, although the in-fill guidelines and zoning regulations would have allowed a building up to 35 feet high at the mid-span.
At an earlier hearing before the trustees, a vote to deny the project failed by a 3-3 vote (Trustee Frosty Merriott was not present at the meeting).
At the meeting this week, some trustees voiced reservations about aspects of the project, concerning how it would fit in with the neighborhood and whether it would yield truly affordable apartments as promised by Kelley and her team.
“I personally am not in favor of the project,” said Trustee A.J. Hobbs, noting that he was one of the three negative votes at the previous meeting.
But, he added, he felt “obliged to approve it,” largely out of “fear that something worse could be built” on the site if this proposal were to be denied.
“While I’m not excited to approve this,” said Trustee Pam Zentmyer, who along with Trustee Katrina Byars voted against the project on Feb. 10. “I think we have a better project out of this process” than the project as it originally was proposed and approved by P&Z, she explained.
She noted that, although much was said by project supporters about the need for rental units in town, this project would only provide four such units in the face of strong opposition from neighbors.
But Mayor Stacey Bernot, who voted in favor of approving the project on Feb. 10, reiterated her view that the project is better than “the potential for what could be there,” which might be a 4,000 square-foot, single family house built to a height of 35 feet, as allowed by zoning.
“My job is to see to it that we have things in place for the betterment of the whole community,” she said, adding that she feels this project is an example of that ideal, despite objections.
In other action, the trustees:
• Approved the final master plan subdivision plat for the Thompson Park project, located next to the Historic Thompson House museum and park along Highway 133 opposite the Third Street Center. Further approvals are needed before construction can begin on the project, which calls for a mix of housing units next door to the planned new Ross Montessori School, the site for which was sold to the school by Cerise Park developer Frieda Wallison.
• Approved special event liquor licenses for four events in town; the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers annual kickoff party at the Third Street Center on April 2; an April 10 fundraiser for the Blue Lake Preschool, to be held at The Orchard Gathering Place on Snowmass Drive; an April 11 Corn Hole Tournament to be held at the Carbondale Recreation and Community Center next to Town Hall; and the annual Five Points Film Festival, April 23-26, to be held at three locations this year — Steve’s Guitars on Fourth Street, the Carbondale Spruce Building at 201 Main St., and the Recreation and Community Center next to Town Hall.
• Approved a new retail cannabis shop at 259 Main St., the former location of the Floyd’s of Mayberry barbershop.