Aspen City Council to weigh two proposals
July 9, 2012
ASPEN – Though the Aspen City Council is expected to postpone its discussion on revised plans for the $10 million Pitkin County Library expansion, two other development applications are on Monday’s meeting agenda.
Public hearings are scheduled for a condominium proposal labeled as the “South Aspen Street Subdivision” and another application that asks for permission to transform office space into retail units in the Aspen Athletic Club building at 720 E. Hyman Ave. The first proposal has been in the works for several years and at one time was part of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain debate. The latter project, in addition to the residential units, also involves a request for a rooftop deck with three skylights.
Library Director Kathy Chandler said the council likely will set another date for another full discussion and a third public hearing on the expansion issue. County officials want to place a property tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot to help pay for library construction and operating costs – an action that has to be completed by the end of August. But before they can proceed, the city, as a landowner and stakeholder in the project, has to weigh in on the two-story addition’s mass and scale.
Thus, time is running short with regard to getting the necessary city approvals and then going through the process of the Board of County Commissioners’ approval to put the item on the fall ballot.
“We’re going to try to work a date out for the next City Council meeting,” Chandler said. “It could be the 10th, the next day, but I think we’re trying to get a little bit more time, and it might be July 30, when the council has an open date. That is certainly not set in concrete.”
During previous discussions, council members have expressed concerns that the planning team working on library designs and related issues hasn’t done all of its homework. Questions have centered on the size of a roof-like canopy that would cover the facility, the potential for cost overruns and the relationship between the library’s new amenities and the city’s plans for a reconfigured Galena Plaza.
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Some council members also have voiced an interest in asking the county to hold a binding vote on the issue. Therefore, if Aspen voters reject the property tax financing mechanism, then the library won’t be allowed to pursue the project through other means – such as an individual or organization providing a $5 million donation to cover half of the building costs. The library has an endowment that is expected to pay for the other half.
“I think they want kind of an agreement that we can’t probably make,” Chandler said. “The library board is not in charge of the voting authority. I think the county manager is concerned that we would be agreeing to something that we really can’t agree to because you would be binding the authority of future boards. So that is where there is a little disconnect, I guess you could say.”
As for council concerns about vagaries in the design, Chandler said she thought the planners addressed the issue by coming up with a new concept for the rooftop canopy with skylight features, allowing large amounts of sunlight to reach areas that would have been shaded under the previous design for a solid canopy.
Chandler said there are widespread public misconceptions about the project, including the belief that the library is seeking to remove trees from nearby Galena Plaza. That aspect of the project falls under the jurisdiction of the city, which is planning to renovate the underutilized plaza and embark upon major repairs to the Rio Grande Parking Garage beneath it.
As for the South Aspen Street condo proposal, council members and city staffers are still pushing for changes that would include a lodge. Earlier this year, the developer, ASV Aspen Street Owners LLC, filed an application that sought 14 free-market units and 10 affordable-housing units in an area near Dean and Gilbert streets. The proposal also includes eight off-site affordable-housing units near the Aspen Business Center.
“Staff has been meeting with the applicant on a weekly basis to discuss that potential (lodge) option,” read a June 18 memorandum to the council from Jennifer Phelan, deputy planning director. “As of the date of this memo the applicant is considering whether a lodge discussion is feasible.”
ASV Aspen Street Owners LLC acquired the rights to develop property after the former developer went bankrupt. The new owners obtained previously granted approvals to develop 14 townhouses and 17 affordable-housing units on the site. Those “vested rights,” as the city refers to them, expire in March 2013.
With regard to the other proposal – the East Hyman Avenue property that houses the Aspen Athletic Club – the owners of the three-story building also are asking the city to waive the prescribed $90,000 cash-in-lieu fee for three parking spaces the project would create: one space for each unit. There is no place to build parking on the property. Representatives of the parking and possibly transportation departments are expected to attend Monday’s meeting to comment on the waiver issue.
Two free-market units would be located on the building’s third floor, while the third unit, on the second floor, would provide affordable housing. One of the free-market units, at 2,750 square feet, would exceed city zoning codes by 250 square feet.
Also under the proposal, the athletic-club building, completed in 1976, would be designated as a historic building. Architect Robin Molny is “a significant local architect who was part of the local Frank Lloyd Wright constituent,” a city memo states.
The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in the basement of Aspen City Hall, 130 S. Galena St.