‘Aesthetic improvement’ for Cooper Street
ASPEN A proposal to redevelop the Cooper Street Pier building met relatively little resistance at a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday.The most notable objection was about whether the street-level space should abut the street or if it should be set back, as it is now for the existing restaurant.The building’s owner, Joshua Saslove, originally proposed redeveloping the building with an indented first floor to mimic the current arrangement. But after two meetings before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, he switched to a design flush with the street, after it became clear that was the commission’s preference because the flush design is more consistent with historic buildings in Aspen. Recalling the HPC discussions, local planner Mitch Haas, representing Saslove, said the commission seemed to believe the only reason to retain the inset first floor was as a sentimental nod to the much-loved Cooper Street Pier restaurant.The city cannot mandate that Saslove rent to another restaurant, but Haas noted that the current flush design includes large windows that could open up for an open-air dining experience, much like Gusto restaurant on Main Street. The windows leave the door open for a new restaurant without limiting use to a restaurant, which might be the only type of business to make good use of the setback space, one commissioner noted.Commissioner Ruth Kruger stated several times that there’s no way a new restaurant will move into the space, since restaurants don’t command the same high rents as retail spaces do. She was also adamant that a protected view plane from the building was put in place because of the setback area, which she said is a pedestrian amenity.But Haas insisted that the view plane begins at the public right of way, not in the setback area. Haas appeared frustrated with the different direction the project has received from HPC and some members of the planning commission regarding the first floor.”I don’t think it would be fair to hold us hostage by something we were essentially required to do,” he said.Kruger said she supported the proposed design, especially considering the space constraints of the lot, but she stood behind her stance on the view plane. Saslove and his representatives will have to continue that discussion when the project comes back to the P&Z on May 1.P&Z members seemed pleased with Saslove’s plan to retain the historic brick walls that frame the current building, even though it’s not a historic landmark and the owner isn’t required to do so.The existing masonry wall that fronts Cooper Avenue is just in excess of 32 feet high, falling slightly lower than the neighboring building that houses Pitkin County Dry Goods.If approved, the new building will rise to 34 feet at the street, matching the neighboring building but still below the allowable 42 feet, and up to 44 feet at its highest point, set back from the street. The additional height will accommodate a split-level free-market housing unit.The proposed building offers roughly 500 fewer square feet of leasable commercial space than the current one, a consequence of accommodating required features such as an elevator.The total affordable housing required for the project amounts to less than a whole unit, so the Community Development staff supported accepting a cash-in-lieu payment of just under $315,000, all of which will go toward buying down other deed-restricted properties for the city’s affordable housing program.Commissioner Steve Skadron offered the strongest opposition to the plan, citing the “clash of objectives” between the HPC’s desire for a flush design and a city objective of creating enticing pedestrian amenities, such as the current inset at the restaurant. Skadron complimented the “aesthetic improvement” to the building but said he couldn’t support it as long as it failed to meet several objectives of the Aspen Area Community Plan, including the promotion of social interaction and a diverse retail environment.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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