Aspen council delays library decision again
June 26, 2012
ASPEN – Saying they still weren’t comfortable with plans for the Pitkin County Library expansion, the Aspen City Council voted unanimously Monday to continue the discussion at its July 9 meeting.
The council postponed the decision once before at its June 11 meeting. At that time, concerns from the public and some council members revolved around the design of a large canopy that would cover the current building and the proposed two-story expansion that would add 7,198 square feet to the library’s existing 31,703-square-foot size.
Though library planners spoke Monday of a new canopy design that would have a skylight feature – allowing the sun to pass through and alleviating some of the public’s concerns about the shading of a large portion of Galena Plaza – a majority of council members said there were still too many vagaries associated with the project. The skylight roof was one of a few new options presented to the council.
Mayor Mick Ireland suggested another postponement when, after more than three hours of discussion and a public hearing, it appeared that only Councilmen Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson were willing to pass the ordinance approving the land use for the library expansion.
“I personally would like us to approve something that we can live with,” Ireland said. “This menu (of options) is just going to confuse everybody.”
Councilman Steve Skadron said there is a desire on the council’s part “to see something fabulous built here. We hate to send you off on your way with something that lacks possibility of success down the road.”
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Ireland suggested that it would behoove the library to revise and solidify its expansion plans not only for the council’s sake but for the general public’s. County officials are expected by the end of August to place an item on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters for a property tax increase in order to pay for half of the project’s $10 million construction cost as well as annual operating costs stemming from the expanded space.
For example, he said, some members of the public are confused about the height of the canopy. At its lowest point it would be 17 feet above grade, and at its highest point it would be 29.5 feet above grade.
Councilman Torre said that while he’s not opposed to the expansion project, the “soaring canopy” gives him pause. Like two weeks ago, he also said he was having difficulty envisioning how the county’s library expansion and the city’s Galena Plaza renovation would be integrated into complementary amenities.
“I hate making a decision that can come back and bite us later,” Torre said. “I thought there would be some interesting solutions that might come up (tonight). I don’t want to design this at this table; that’s not my job or my area of expertise. My one concern is that this works as we’ve all been talking about it for years.”
Library Director Kathy Chandler said that in the time between the meetings on June 11 and Monday, the library board met and favored a canopy with skylight features over the previously preferred solid design. She said she understands the council’s direction to mean that it wants a new alternative that has general public support.
The library is commissioning a poll to see if voters will support a property tax increase this fall to pay for building and operating costs.
“I think they just wanted to make sure that we’ve thought about it and that we have more time to check in with the community to get a comfort level for being able to pass a ballot issue,” Chandler said.
It’s possible that at the July 9 meeting, library planners will go back to the council with the same plan for a skylight canopy, she said.
“Some people are concerned about the canopy height and the size, and other people think that it’s a beautiful plan,” Chandler said. “The library board thought it was a great design. But some members of the community are concerned, so we will have the library board mull it over some more.”
Library planners and board members appear to be sold on the idea of a canopy covering the facility to create a “civic porch” effect on the eastern side near the plaza, encouraging users to read and congregate outside and to resuscitate an area that’s currently underutilized.
The issue might not come back on July 9, however. Council members spoke of the possibility of a special meeting over the next few weeks in which they would deal solely with the library issue.
City officials also noted that even if they approve the footprint for the expansion, and a library districtwide vote on the property tax hike is successful, council members will still need to weigh in on an easement issue before the project can begin.
In other business, council members approved a resolution declaring a Stage 1 water shortage. City Water Department officials spoke of how drought conditions are likely to continue through the summer, forcing the need to conserve water.
With a Stage 1 declaration, the city is seeking to reduce water consumption by 10 percent, a target level that a different council configuration set during the 2002 drought. The declaration allows the city to raise water utility rates for its biggest customers as an incentive for cutting back on consumption.