ACES granted small expansion for Aspen campus

Visitor’s center to be expanded; roundabout approved

The visitor’s center at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen City Council on Tuesday approved a small expansion to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies campus that includes an addition to the visitor center and administrative offices and a vehicle turnaround.

The 815-square-foot expansion to the Birds of Prey visitor’s center will accommodate more visitors and work space above.

“This property is currently at capacity when visitors come and see the property,” Brett Lohr, project manager at Forum Phi Architecture, told council on behalf of ACES. “ACES has become more popular over time and it’s my understanding that this building fills up on a regular basis.”

As part of the approval, ACES agreed to the council’s request to change the status of two deed restrictions on employee housing units it has on the campus so that they are mandatory and no longer voluntary.

That guarantees that the units will always be in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory and not subject to free-market influences in the future.

“I appreciate you coming forward to say that you’d like to add a permanent deed restriction to those units, express them as mitigation units for the growth that has occurred,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Five on-site affordable housing units were approved for development when ACES was annexed into the city in 1997.

Three are in the building known as the Tree House and two within the Straw Bale House, housing up to a total of 13 full-time equivalent employees.

Units known as the Directors and Professors Houses will remain voluntary designation, as they are not always housing staff but visiting speakers.

ACES, with a 25.5-acre property off of North Mill Street surrounding Hallam Lake, serves as an education center and nature preserve and is an important community asset, according to city staff.

The property is home to seven buildings; three are for public use and four are used for employee housing.

Schools throughout the valley often visit the property, bringing in large groups of students on buses, according to Kevin Rayes, a city planner.

The dimensions of the existing driveway leading to the property cannot safely accommodate buses turning around, requiring drivers to make awkward maneuvers to exit, he wrote in a memo to council.

ACES will remedy that by reconfiguring the entry with a turnaround that is wide enough accommodate buses.

The Tree House at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)