Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, population 6,700 (2013), lies at an elevation of 7,908 feet at the foot of one of the world’s most famous ski areas, approximately 200 miles southwest of Denver. The area was first settled by silver miners in 1879 and Aspen has retained many historic landmarks from its past.

In 1994, Pitkin County, which surrounds Aspen, adopted a TDR program to preserve rural, mountainous land for non-commercial recreation. As reported in The TDR Handbook, the Pitkin County program has been relatively successful. In 2003, the City of Aspen adopted a package of zoning code amendments that created a transferable development rights program to encourage the protection of historic properties. This profile incorporates amendments to this code section (26.535) adopted in 2008, 2010, and 2014.

In the Aspen program, potential sending sites are designated Historic Landmarks in zones that permit single-family or duplex residential development as a permitted use. An interested landmark owner can offer to record an easement that permanently restricts the size of the landmark below the floor area allowed as a matter of right by the zoning ordinance. The ordinance specifically states that the remaining development potential must be stated as a reduction from the square footage otherwise allowed, thus acknowledging that the code-permitted floor area can change over time and that the sending site can remain eligible to receive floor area incentives and exemptions.

The City Council evaluates applications for TDR Certificates based on review criteria in the Zoning Code. If an application meets the review standards, the City Council approves the establishment of a TDR Certificate by Ordinance. One TDR Certificate is approved for each 250 square feet of floor area restricted by the deed restriction. The certificates are given to the applicant at a real estate closing at which the property owner delivers the executed deed restriction for recordation. TDR Certificates can be sold, assigned, transferred, or conveyed. The City does not prescribe or guarantee the monetary value of a TDR.

The City ordinance allows Aspen TDRs to be transferred to Pitkin County receiving sites should the County amend its code to allow such transfers. However, the City ordinance specifically prohibits Aspen receiving sites from accepting Pitkin County TDRs.

In three receiving zones, the extinguishment of an Aspen Historic TDR certificate allows an additional 250 square feet of floor area. Prior to the 2014 amendment, each residence on a receiving site was limited to a maximum bonus of 250 square feet (with specified exceptions for receiving sites located in the same subdivision or planned unit development as the sending site.)

According to a staff report written by Sara Adams, Senior Planner, on October 27, 2014, the program had created 64 TDRs as of that date and 24 have landed, with purchase prices ranging from $175,000 to $240,000 per TDR. Even though the Aspen code allows transfers to intermediaries, the initial purchaser of TDRs has generally been the end user, meaning a receiving site owner wanting to exceed baseline floor area. The staff report noted that a large supply of TDRs on the market would tend to reduce interest in the program. The demand for TDRs was constrained in 2013 when the City banned new market-rate residential units in the Commercial and Commercial Core zones. Previously, the City had also rescinded a lodge incentive program that used TDRs. To generate demand staff proposed allowing as many as three TDRs to be landed and used on receiving sites as long as those receiving sites meet or exceed certain lot size standards. On October 27, 2014, the City Council agreed with the concept of increasing demand but adopted a two-TDR maximum limit as follows.

  • Medium Density R-6 lots at least 9,000 sf in size that contain only a single-family residence can use two TDRs (meaning 500 sf over baseline floor area)
  • Moderate Density R-15 and R-15A lots at least 15,000 sf in size that contain only a single-family residence can use twos TDRs (meaning 500 sf over baseline floor area).

Non-conforming uses/structures and properties on the Inventory of Historic Sites and Structures are not eligible to become receiving sites. The City issues a letter confirming TDR extinguishments. The letter expresses the new floor area limit not as an absolute number but as an additional square footage beyond the applicable code limit; this allows the property to benefit from future code changes to floor area limits and keeps the receiving site eligible to receive floor area incentives and exceptions.