Aspen council likes latest ideas for Bidwell project
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Proposed changes in the plan for redeveloping a high-profile downtown Aspen building won general support Monday from the Aspen City Council, but Mayor Mick Ireland called on developers to explain why the existing building can’t be significantly remodeled rather than razed.
At present, the owners of the building, three siblings in the Bidwell family, have proposed demolishing the Mountain Plaza building, also known as the Bidwell Building, and constructing a new, three-story, mixed-use structure to replace the distinctive two-story building that currently sits on the corner of Galena and Cooper.
The proposed new building, and the impacts of construction on a prominent corner in the heart of the commercial core, have generated a slew of e-mails to the city that are mostly critical of the project.
There was little public comment on the project Monday, though, after Ireland explained that no decision would be made until July 12, when all five council members are expected to be on hand to discuss a revised development plan. Councilman Steve Skadron is on vacation and was absent yesterday.
On Monday, the applicants were merely looking for input, but Mark Bidwell, one of the building’s owners, took exception to past characterizations that he and his siblings are out-of-towners looking to make a buck.
“I think we all three still consider Aspen to be our hometown,” said Bidwell, an Aspen native who now resides in Florida. “To suggest we’re just out-of-town guys looking to get in and get out, I guess, is a little disappointing.”
The aging building, built in 1965 by the late Bert Bidwell, has become functionally obsolete, according to the applicants, but Ireland pressed for an explanation as to why the existing structure can’t be gutted and remodeled, and its sunken front courtyard eliminated, as is proposed with the new building.
“I think the time has come for this community to look at recycling our buildings rather than demolition and replacement,” he said.
Councilman Torre, too, said he’d welcome a plan that avoids complete demolition, but he also praised the latest ideas for the project.
The applicants have proposed eliminating a second subterranean level that was to be used for parking, reducing the need for disruptive excavation, though some would still be necessary.
The move will “eliminate a whole lot of digging,” said planning consultant Mitch Haas, and could cut three months off a construction period that he previously estimated at 30 months.
The latest plan also calls for replacing one free-market condo unit and one commercial space with deed-restricted worker units. That would give the project four employee units, two free-market residences and seven commercial spaces.
Ireland said he didn’t want to swap a commercial space for a residential unit and criticized the proposed RO, or resident occupied, category for the housing. It’s the most expensive level of worker housing and one that serves the fewest working residents, he said.
Several council members urged the development team to go over and above the binding construction management plan they’re already proposing.
“I think it needs to be a vicious public outreach,” said Councilman Derek Johnson, urging the team to meet with neighbors and win over critics.
Ireland said the city can’t put up with a construction parking mess at that key corner.
“We can’t have our downtown parking spaces monopolized for 30 months,” he said. “Our economy is too fragile for that right now.”
In general, though, all but Ireland suggested the project is headed in the right direction.
“I think you’ve gone a long way toward something that could possibly be accepted in the long run,” Torre said.
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.