Aspen church allowed to expand eventually |

Aspen church allowed to expand eventually

ASPEN God appeared to be on the side of Christ Episcopal Church Monday night, when the Aspen City Council voted to allow the place of worship to expand.But the approval is not without conditions, which include the church agreeing to not expand its facility for 20 years, and reconfiguring the design of the project so the annex building wont encroach on the setback in the alley.The church, which is located at the corner of North and North Fifth streets in the West End, had been granted approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission to extend the existing building and annex into the 10-foot setback facing the alley.Knowing the development application would likely be shot down by the council as proposed, church representatives agreed to the compromise of redesigning the annex while retaining the same amount of square footage. The larger existing building will be allowed to be expanded into the alley setback. The addition to the main church building will be demolished and replaced. The square footage for the entire project will increase from 7,118 to 9,158 feet.Standing in the way of expanding the facilities in the front of the building is a 50-year-old tree that is only one of three of its kind in the city and has the ashes of eight deceased parishioners spread around its base.The silver maple trees presence is inconvenient and is an impediment for the churchs plans because it restricts development on the front of the property, planners for the project said. When the plans are reconfigured, the church has the option of asking the council for permission to remove the tree, although that isnt the desired alternative. The church needed a unanimous vote by three council members because City Councilmen Jack Johnson and Dwayne Romero recused themselves from the review. Romero is a member of the church and Johnson is an Episcopalian. Several church members spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the facility needs storage space, and currently is inadequate for existing programs and the congregation.Many neighbors spoke against the project, arguing expansion means growth. They also said the project is too large and is out of context with the neighborhood.The council decision doesnt affect a pending lawsuit filed by Steven Falender, who joined his wife, Debra, and neighbors Janice and Charles Collins, against the P&Z, the city of Aspen, Christ Episcopal Church and Chris Bendon, director of the city’s Community Development Department.Frustrated that they can’t appeal the P&Z vote granting a setback variance, residents in October took the matter to the only judicial body that will hear them: Pitkin County district court.Falender told The Times last fall that when commissioners approved the setback variance, they told neighbors they would have ample opportunity to appeal the decision, but the city attorney later denied them.Speaking out against a church is not a pleasant thing to do, Falender told the council on Monday. He added that he continues to seek common ground with the church.The emotions ran high in council chambers on Monday, with supporters and opponents mumbling under their breaths some ungodly comments, such as one church supporter who said I wish I brought my handgun here in response to Janice Collins reasoning of why the project should be rejected. Planners reduced the original size of the renovation by 500 feet to preserve large trees in front of the church, and the overall goal is to bring the existing structure originally built in 1962 up to fire safety code with sprinklers and create more space for people with disabilities.The size of the building has been addressed many different times in many different ways, said Rev. Bruce McNab, adding the expansion will allow private meeting space, as well as a nursery school and Sunday school classrooms, which dont exist

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