Carbondale trustees approve 191 Sopris
The third time was the charm for the proposed fourplex at 191 Sopris Ave. in Carbondale.
After extensive public comment and several design revisions, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the project late Tuesday night.
The project would scrape an existing home on a high-density residential lot on the northeast corner of Second and Sopris and replace it with a two-story building with four units. Although the old home had a nonconforming setback, the new building required a variance due to its proximity to the street, which was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in December.
Neighbors objected to the move, and formally appealed it.
“While we are not opposed to the concept of infill, the convergence of low-density and high-density zone districts at the corner of Second and Sopris streets makes it difficult to accommodate infill here without compromising neighborhood character,” wrote Jeff Maus and Ellen Sassano in a letter to the town. “We request that the proposed structure be reduced in size so that it may be accommodated on the site within the existing zone district setbacks, at a size and scale that is in character with the neighborhood.”
Many neighbors turned up Jan. 27 and again Feb. 10 to have their say. The second meeting ended in a deadlocked 3-3 vote on a motion to deny the application. Developers reached out the neighborhood through a mediator, but negotiations fell through. Still, several changes were made to the design before it went before the board again.
Attorney Kelcey C. Nichols cited them in a letter to trustees on behalf of the developer.
“Sopris Properties has met or exceeded all of the infill guidelines and the special variance criteria. The 191 Sopris project has again been modified to address the specific concerns of this Board and the public,” she wrote. “Accordingly, we ask that the board approve the project in its current form.”
Trustee Frosty Merriott, who was absent for the previous vote, was sympathetic.
“I really get to feeling the applicant’s bent over backwards to make this work,” he said. “There’s always going to be somebody that doesn’t like what you’re doing. My hope for the people who are against this is that you will say, ‘We were wrong; this has been great for our neighborhood.’”
It was far from an open-and-shut meeting, however.
In addition to several neighbors who still considered the building too large, other members of the community spoke to the need for affordable housing, a concern Mayor Stacey Bernot shared.
“To me, it’s not about the buildings, it’s about the people,” she said. “I want an inventory of mobile homes to mansions in this community, and if we bicker about every project that comes through, I think we’re losing sight of those goals.”
Trustee Alexander Hobbs wasn’t sure the project would accomplish that.
“As long as we’re the direction we are, no matter how much we build, we will never have affordable housing,” he said.
Still, Hobbs welcomed the dialogue.
“That is what democracy is about, and that’s the kind of community involvement that we need in our town,” he said.
He also addressed a sense that the fourplex may be a lesser evil compared with a three-story, 10,000-square-foot house that could theoretically occupy the lot without any need for a variance.
“I choose to deny this application last time, but I will have trouble denying it this time out of fear of something worse that can be built, and I really hate that as a motivation. The possibility of something bigger, boxier and higher being built without any of this process makes me question the process.”
Bernot was quick to remind those present that the process is under review.
“Hopefully the UDC can address some of this,” she said, referring to the ongoing Unified Development Code rewrite which is intended to streamline the town’s building and zoning system. “It would be really nice to have some clarity.”
While the approaching update may help quell fears that the 191 Sopris approval will set a precedent, a larger infill project is already looming on the horizon. As the crowds departed on Tuesday night, the trustees settled in to tackle Thompson Park, a planned development that will add 27 units to town near the historic Thompson House.
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