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November 13, 2012
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Aspen airport master plan ready for final look

ASPEN - The plan for future development at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is about to enter the home stretch after nearly two years of discussion and review.

County commissioners will take up the plan, which envisions a new commercial terminal and eventual west-side improvements, on Wednesday. A second reading and public hearing, along with possible adoption, is scheduled Dec. 5.

The 20-year plan examines future uses of the airport property, setting aside room for a new terminal of 80,000 square feet (nearly double the size of the existing terminal), plus a combination of underground and surface parking totaling about 1,300 spaces. It also establishes a second fixed-base operator, on the west, or Owl Creek, side of the airport and a new taxiway, parallel to the runway, on the west side.

The county's Planning and Zoning Commission recently completed its review of the master plan, offering referral comments after considering its consistency with the Aspen Area Community Plan and the West of Maroon Creek Land-Use Master Plan, which is currently in draft form.

The commission urged the airport to encourage the use of alternate modes of transportation to decrease reliance on rental vehicles and the need for parking spaces, possibly making use of a baggage-delivery system that could make public transportation more feasible for airline passengers.

The commission also took exception to proposals for a second fixed-base operator either on the west side or adjacent to the existing one on the east side of the airport. The east-side proposal would affect views from Highway 82, while new development on the west side lacks a connection to mass transit, would increase traffic on Owl Creek Road and would affect the rural character of the west side of the airport, the commission concluded.

"They're basically making a finding that neither side is consistent with the community plan," said Suzanne Wolff, county planner.

"I think it's consistent with a portion of the community that is concerned about how that would fit, what impacts it would have," the airport's aviation director, Jim Elwood, said of the commission's thoughts on a second fixed-base operator.

The push for a second such operator, however, was a driving factor in updating the airport master plan. Prospective operators have expressed interest, and because the airport has accepted federal grant funds, it can't refuse to allow a competing fixed-base operator when it has room to accommodate one, county commissioners have been told. Such operators sell fuel for both commercial and private aviation, and provide maintenance services to private aircraft.

Wednesday's plan review will again outline the spaces that are reserved for various uses as well as provide a recap of its financial feasibility. An analysis has determined the $171.3 million in projects could be financed through a combination of outside investments, revenues generated by the airport, including additional revenues from a second fixed-base operator, and federal and state grants. A $50 million revenue bond would be repaid with airport revenues, according to the analysis.

The plan includes no timetable for improvements, though the airport's long-range budget includes an environmental analysis for a new terminal later this decade, Elwood noted. Commissioners have already endorsed a phased approach to building a new terminal and said less than 80,000 square feet is likely adequate to start. Individual projects at the airport will see a detailed design review as they come forward.

The timing of a proposal for a second fixed-base operator, or FBO, might be outside the airport's control, according to Elwood.

"That's one where I think we're going to be responsive if a party submits an application that's deemed complete and full under the county code," he said. "I haven't seen where (commissioners) are interested in soliciting a second FBO."

The commissioners' meeting begins at noon Wednesday in the Rio Grande Commons. Go to www.aspenairportplanning.com for details about the master plan.

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 13, 2012 07:31AM Published Nov 13, 2012 01:24AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.