Aspen’s ZG Master Plan on the rocks
December 3, 2008
ASPEN ” After nearly two years in the making, a plan to develop 80,000 square feet of new office and government space in downtown Aspen is apparently dying on the vine.
Aspen city planner Ben Gagnon on Tuesday told the Planning and Zoning Commission that the ZG Master Plan is on hold indefinitely. The multimillion-dollar project’s viability is now being questioned, given the failing economy.
Whether the master plan effort will be completely scrapped has not yet been decided. Gagnon said he plans to meet with project’s partners later this week to discuss whether to proceed.
The ZG Master Plan is being proposed by the city of Aspen, Pitkin County, the library and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA).
“It’s fair to say that the partnership is unsure how and what to proceed on,” Gagnon told the commission. “There is a great deal of uncertainty in proceeding.”
The Aspen Art Museum pulled out of the process last month, hoping to gain approval for a new museum without the bureaucracy attached to the master plan. The museum is eyeing the site of the former Aspen Youth Center to build a 30,000-square-foot facility, provided that the city and voters sign off on using publicly owned land.
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The art museum has not yet submitted a land-use application, and before it does, it must have the permission of the city to use the land, or buy the property, which would at some point require voter approval.
“There is a lot of work prior to submitting an application,” said Aspen Community Development director Chris Bendon. “But you don’t necessarily have to have concluded all the land negotiations before submitting an application.”
The museum has been located for decades at another city-owned property, a former hydroelectric power plant on the banks of the Roaring Fork River, next to the North Mill Street bridge. The proposed new site is located between the Pitkin County Library and the Pitkin County jail, at the north end of Galena Street.
The master plan is the largest civic development undertaking since Aspen’s inception. The plan involves renovating, rebuilding and demolishing existing government-owned buildings.
It includes five acres in downtown Aspen, and it proposes to rebuild and add hundreds of thousands of square feet in government offices and public space.
The site encompasses land from the library to the parking lot at the corner of Mill Street and Rio Grande Place, including the ACRA offices, the city-owned Rio Grande parking garage and the upper floors of the former youth center. The project area also extends up to Main Street to include the courthouse, the jail, the county annex building and the Zupancis property, which is currently occupied by the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department and the city parking department.
The plan as it stands now includes the expansion of the library on the western edge of Galena Plaza; a town hall meeting room on the roof of the parking garage; city offices where the ACRA building is; two new buildings in the Rio Grande surface parking lot where ACRA, affordable housing and commercial space would be located; and a new county annex building on the eastern edge of the property. An underground parking garage would connect the jail to the courthouse and all the way to the Zupancis property. Underground parking also would be built under the Rio Grande surface lot.
The county also is asking for 64,000 square feet for a new complex on the site of the existing Pitkin County Annex building and the Zupancis parcel, just to the east.
From initial planning to final construction, the plan was expected to take 12 to 20 years, with six different phases that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The plan also would require several public votes.
Bonds would have to be approved, and the use of tax dollars and the entitlements to public land would have to be endorsed by Aspen voters.