Aspen council OKs plan for library
August 3, 2012
ASPEN – Amid many reservations voiced by local residents as well as themselves, Aspen City Council members voted 4-1 Thursday to approve the land-use application for the Pitkin County Library’s proposed expansion.
Councilman Steve Skadron provided the lone nay vote during a special meeting that lasted 2 1/2 hours in the basement of City Hall. Supporting the request from library officials to build a two-story addition to the existing structure were Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilmen Torre, Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson.
Before his vote, Skadron said he cherishes the library and believes that some type of expansion is warranted. But like other local residents who spoke during the public-hearing portion of the meeting, he expressed concerns about the canopy designs that seek to provide a porch-type effect on the library’s eastern side facing Galena Plaza.
Skadron said he doesn’t think a canopy is required to “activate the plaza-library interface.” Library planners have touted the new porch area as a way of reviving the little-used city plaza, which also is slated for redevelopment.
“Does this serve the best long-term interests (of the community) before me is not in the criteria before me,” Skadron said, pointing out, like other council members, that mass and scale were the only factors they could consider in evaluating the library’s land-use application.
“With a heavy heart, and tears, I will not support this tonight,” he said.
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Torre also said he had concerns about the project, saying he thought it was a shame that the canopy’s 16-foot extension from the edge of the proposed two-story addition into Galena Plaza “was being driven by a garage fix job.” The primary reason given for the extension deep into Galena Plaza was the need to provide support for the canopy structure by connecting with a certain structural beam in the garage, which lies under the plaza.
Torre said city planners would need to come up with new designs for the plaza to provide better synergy with the library’s plans and community uses. He added that he believes the county will have “an uphill battle” when it goes to the public this fall to seek financial support for the project.
Library Director Kathy Chandler said the planning team did what the council asked of it by reducing the roof-like canopy’s height. Architects lowered the maximum height in the center section of the canopy from 29.75 feet to 28 feet, the council’s newly desired top height for all new building projects. Planners also lowered the canopy in other spots, such as the facility’s northern end, where it was reduced to a height of 23 feet above grade, 9 feet lower than originally proposed. Previously, the northern end of the roof was slated to be the high point of the structure.
With council approval on the land-use question secured, the issue now goes to Pitkin County commissioners. Over the next month, they are expected to decide a potential item for the Nov. 6 ballot that would ask voters for a property tax increase in order to pay for about half of the project’s $10.3 million construction costs. The library board has $5.3 million in an endowment to cover half of the building project.
The tax revenue also would generate money to cover annual operating costs of about $160,000 stemming from the expanded space. Chandler said she thought that estimate would be reduced soon.
The new two-story building, an addition on the current building’s eastern side, would add 7,198 square feet to the library’s existing 31,703-square-foot size. In addition to the downstairs “porch,” it would feature a mezzanine level for leisurely reading, new areas devoted to children and teens, more meeting rooms and more space for expanded collections.
The revised canopy design features a skylight effect which will allow sunlight to pass through. It attempts to alleviate some of the public concerns about the shading of a large portion of the plaza.
Ireland, who said he was a proponent of letting county voters decide the question of whether to expand the library, asked Chandler whether officials would raise money from other sources as a way of moving forward with the project, should the public reject the tax increase. County officials have said the tax increase would amount to a little more than $16 for each $1 million of assessed residential value.
“We’re not out to make enemies in the community,” Chandler replied.
A mid-July survey of 300 active voters within the library district showed that 59 percent of the electorate would vote for a property-tax increase equal to an additional $16 or $17 annually on a home valued at $1 million. Another 35 percent said they would not vote for the tax, and 6 percent said they didn’t know.