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November 15, 2012
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Aspen airport master plan wins initial approval

ASPEN - A master plan that envisions a new commercial terminal, parking garage and other development at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport won initial approval from county commissioners Wednesday on a 4-1 vote.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield cast the sole dissenting vote, voicing objections to various components of what's been repeatedly described as a plan that reserves the physical space and location for various facilities that could be needed over the next 20 years at the airport.

Wednesday's action forwards the plan to a Dec. 5 public hearing and possible final approval. An airport layout plan then would be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for its OK.

"I'm in favor of this mainly because I see it for what it really is, ... the guidelines for multiple different decisions that could be made in the future," Commissioner Rob Ittner said.

"This really is just the beginning of the design process," Commissioner George Newman agreed.

The plan, more than two years in the making, allows flexibility as individual elements are filtered through what Jim Elwood, the airport's aviation director, predicted would be an extensive design phase. And while all of the facilities are financially feasible without an infusion of local tax revenues, planned projects can't occur if the funding isn't available, said financial consultant Steve Horton.

Hatfield, however, balked at the potential for an 80,000-square-foot commercial terminal, which would be nearly double what exists currently, along with 31⁄2 stories of underground parking, covered by landscaping, and a second fixed-based operator on the west, or Owl Creek, side of the airport.

"I'm just so not on board with building structured parking," Hatfield said. "Short term, I don't think we need it. I think we can build a new terminal without having to build structured parking."

While the west side of the airport has been deemed the feasible place to accommodate a second fixed-base operator - a private entity that sells fuel and serves private aircraft - Hatfield said such development wouldn't fit with the more rural character of that side of the airport property. Commissioners have been told they must accommodate another fixed-based operator (multiple parties have expressed interest) because there is room for one and because the airport has accepted federal grant funds.

Hatfield, who soon will finish his final term of office, also urged his colleagues to require worker housing as part of new development at the airport.

"I think we should live with the same standard as the private sector," he said.

While Hatfield said he doesn't believe the master plan reflects the community's values, Commissioner Michael Owsley disagreed.

"The standard of this community is excellence," Owsley said. "Certainly this master plan has lined up to that community standard."

While the master plan essentially plugs in the footprint of buildings and other facilities on the airport property, discussion has often strayed toward more specific design considerations - a one-story terminal versus two, for example. The plan doesn't recommend either but sets aside 80,000 square feet for a building that could be constructed in phases, according to consultants. Some commissioners have suggested 60,000 square feet would be sufficient to start.

A combination of underground and surface parking would consolidate existing parking and add additional spaces for a total of 1,300 stalls.

The community, tapped for input into the plan, has stressed a new terminal doesn't need to be an architectural statement, Commissioner Rachel Richards noted, but she stressed that she doesn't want that sentiment to translate into an unattractive building.

"I do want to make sure we don't carry that comment too far," she said.

The development of design guidelines for the airport will be the next step, according to Elwood. They could include, for example, direction on acceptable building materials and landscaping for future facilities.

Developing the guidelines isn't currently part of the airport's 2013 budget, but plugging the work into the budget or funding it through a supplemental appropriation is possible, he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 15, 2012 06:17AM Published Nov 15, 2012 12:52AM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.