In the debate over the proposed Pitkin County Library expansion, the common phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" comes to mind.
Some opponents of the project believe that a two-story, 7,200-square-foot addition on the library's east side is going to mar the property forever. They hate the design, especially the canopy, ranging from 17 feet high on one end to 23 feet on the other, with a high point of 28 feet between.
They don't like the expansion's intrusion into a section of Galena Plaza. They believe the new building and the canopy would be a poor fit for the area surrounding the library property and that views of Red Mountain and the parklands to the north would be compromised. They think that the outdoor common areas included in the proposal are a waste of space - libraries aren't places for people to congregate like coffee shops, they contend.
These are common arguments that arise with any development project in Aspen. A lot of people are opposed to change for change's sake. We understand that and believe that in many cases, the "anti" crowd is right in its assessments.
But after careful examination, we see the criticisms as much ado about nothing, to borrow another well-worn phrase.
First, the rooftop canopy, the primary source of outrage: In response to community concerns, the planners developed a skylight design for it, allowing the sun to pour through and negating the belief that the canopy would darken the plaza for many hours of the day and many months of the year.
Second, the building and canopy heights: At its highest point, the canopy rises to 28 feet, which is a mere two stories. That's not so different from the buildings that surround the library property; therefore, to argue that the height of the canopy and the building itself represent a gargantuan, monolithic structure more in tune with Denver than small-town Aspen seems to us to be a scare tactic.
Voters are being asked two questions on the Nov. 6 election ballot related to the library expansion. Ballot issue 5A asks voters to increase property tax support for the library to raise $141,000 annually for ongoing costs associated with the expansion. The money isn't for staffing, according to officials, but rather utility and cleaning costs, technology and ongoing capital-replacement needs associated with the added space.
Issue 5B asks voters to authorize $5.4 million in borrowing, which would be repaid through property taxes over a period as long as 25 years, to fund the expansion project, along with an extensive remodeling of the existing building. The maximum repayment, with interest, is $10.2 million, according to the ballot language.
We recognize that the proposed library project has its detractors, and that's OK. We applaud those who've mustered the courage to speak up (it's not easy to campaign against something as well respected as our library), but we're a bit dismayed by the half-truths and outright inaccuracies that have surfaced as they try to bolster their position.
Here's one example that should have everyone scratching their heads: the repeated assertion that Question 5A will cost taxpayers $5 million. At some point, the tax ($141,000 annually) will add up to $5 million; before that, the total collected will be less, and after that, the total collected will be more. At an election forum, a spokesperson for Save Our Library and Civic Plaza insisted that $5 million should be considered part of the project cost but never once correctly calculated the number of years it would take for annual payments of $141,000 to total $5 million. It's about 36 years, by the way.
And among the assertions contained in fliers circulated by the Save Our Library group is one claiming that residents are taxed as much for the library as they are for fire protection. We're not sure why the comparison is relevant, but it's not true. The current mill levy for the library district is 1.296. The mill levy for the Aspen Fire Protection District is 1.455, according to the county assessor's 2011 abstract. The library's levy does take in more money, however, because the district takes in a greater tax base than does the fire district. The library district includes Snowmass Village, for example. By the way, if you reside within the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, your levy for fire-protection services is 4.351. Your levy for the library is 1.296.
There are other assertions we could refute, but need we say more? The Pitkin County Library is a heavily used and well-run community facility that has earned the right to expand. To us, the proposal is a sound investment for the benefit of all of its users whether young or old, residents or visitors. Every so often, change is for the better.
We urge you to vote in the affirmative for 5A and 5B.