ASPEN - Sheriff Joe DiSalvo on Tuesday expressed reservations about part of a tentative plan by the city of Aspen for the renovation of Galena Plaza that calls for the removal of most parking spaces on the west side of the Pitkin County Courthouse, which law enforcement personnel currently use.
In the past, Mayor Mick Ireland, some council members and city staff have suggested that one reason why Galena Plaza is underutilized - and why people are reluctant to cross through the plaza corridor when going from downtown to Rio Grande Park - is because of the presence of so many patrol vehicles lining Galena Street north of Main Street.
The Aspen Police Department and Pitkin County Sheriff's Office are in the courthouse basement, and access to the vehicles on nearby Galena Street is convenient. But to some locals and visitors, the vehicles are either intimidating or simply uninviting.
"I've seen several configurations of this over the last five or six years," DiSalvo told council members during a Tuesday work session. "As a citizen of Aspen, I love this idea. As a person who provides services for customers in public safety, it's really not conducive to move that parking area. I guess I need to ask the man who's doing the work, 'Where will the cars go?'"
Scott Chism, a planner and project manager in the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said the team working on the Galena Plaza project is committed to addressing the issue and finding adequate parking for law enforcement.
Chism said that if council members wants planners to allot more space west of the courthouse for public-safety vehicles, then that can be accomplished. But he reminded them of their direction in previous meetings calling for removal of the lion's share of law enforcement parking spaces in that area.
"The message that we heard from council in October was to reduce and eliminate the amount of police and sheriff parking there at the terminus of Galena Street," Chism said. "So what we'd like to know from council, is that the right direction or not? And if not, we will reassess."
Councilman Derek Johnson said he remembered the direction was for city planners to forge a dialogue with both the police and sheriff's departments to determine the impact of removing the spaces and to work with them to find suitable alternatives.
One suggestion that arose during the meeting was that some vehicles deemed noncritical to emergency scenarios could be parked in the Rio Grande Parking Garage or in the lot north of the courthouse and south of the jail, an area that does not access Main Street.
DiSalvo said the parking lot behind the courthouse would only be sufficient for either the Sheriff's Office or the Police Department, but not both.
"I can tell you from my point of view, as a public-safety professional, the response from the back lot is not as adequate as Galena Street, but I understand that things have to change and this is a good plan," he said. "Responding from the back lot, we can live with it."
But DiSalvo pointed out that while response from the back lot would be OK, the lot still isn't big enough to serve both departments in the event of the removal of most of the spaces on Galena Street.
No representatives from the Aspen Police Department were on hand to provide their input on the matter.
"I just don't see any place to put an additional 15 parking spots around (the courthouse), and that's my concern as sheriff," he said.
Ireland asked DiSalvo if every on-duty law-enforcement officer had to have a car parked just outside the courthouse.
"Yes," DiSalvo said. "It's a public-safety response issue."
Ireland asked the sheriff if some of his vehicles that are used for non-emergency situations, such as serving civil notices in the area, could be parked in the Rio Grande Parking Garage.
"I could move a few cars, but it's still grossly inadequate," DiSalvo said. "Even if I move the less-than-necessary response vehicles out, I still have to move (Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor) and his four or five patrol cars and Animal Safety and Community Safety vehicles that are back there."
With the matter unresolved, council members directed Chism's planning team to meet further with both the police and sheriff's offices to come up with potential solutions and then report back to the council in the near future.
The plaza project's overall goal is to create a synergy between the town's commercial center and the park by expanding the grassy area of the plaza, providing a wider walkway and permanent bench seating west of the courthouse area, adding an overlook affording views of the park and building a staircase that would descend from the plaza down to Rio Grande Place.
The council last year dismissed a plan that was deemed too grandiose, and Chism returned Tuesday with a scaled-down version - but one that did not include details on where to move the law enforcement parking spaces.