Aspen council postpones decision on library expansion plan
June 12, 2012
ASPEN – The potential to move the Pitkin County Library expansion project forward got hung up Monday night when the Aspen City Council and area residents found a host of flaws in the plan’s details.
Council members voted 5-0 to postpone the matter until its June 25 regular meeting after listening to about three hours of comments from the audience, library officials and planners. Though many separate concerns were raised, a key issue kept popping up in the debate: whether the new rooftop covering the entire facility and its canopy designed to extend 16 feet from the library’s east side, creating a porch effect, would be too big.
Many worried that it would shade a large portion of adjacent Galena Plaza, which the city is planning to redevelop, during the afternoon and certain times of year.
“The fact is, we’re going to create a fairly dark plaza if we do this,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, who, like others, suggested the idea of a retractable roof or canopy.
“Public spaces in this town are particularly successful when they face south and have a lot of sun,” Aspen resident Howie Mallory said. “The canopy as I look at it … lacks that feature, and I think that should be looked at closely by (government) staff and the community going forward.”
However, several residents voiced support for the plans as they are now drawn.
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“I don’t care what it looks like. I don’t care what shadows come out. This building needs to be upgraded for the sake of ourselves as well as our children,” resident Jackie Kasabach said.
Former Mayor Bill Stirling called the plaza “moribund” and said the library expansion and the canopy that would give residents a shady place to congregate or a shady place to read or sit would help to revitalize it.
He said library officials and planners are trying or respond to the evolution of the Internet and move the library into the 21st century.
“The shape and form of the library is geared to a bygone era,” Stirling said. “Think about roofs for a second. Think about Harris Hall, the (Benedict) Music Tent, the Givens Institute, may she rest in peace. The postmodern era of Aspen architecture is all about roof lines and really exciting and different kinds of roof lines. … There needs to be some change and expansion in order to move with the times.”
The council is the city’s land-use review authority, charged with deciding whether the mass and scale of the expansion plans are appropriate for the property. Meanwhile, the Board of County Commissioners is expected to decide before September whether to ask voters on Nov. 6 to approve a property tax increase that would finance half of the $10 million construction tab as well as provide about $123,000 annually for operating costs.
Another issue that kept coming up during Monday’s meeting was whether a November vote on the property tax would serve as a referendum on the project itself. As plans now exist, were the council to approve the county’s land-use application for the project, there’s the possibility that the county could move forward with plans even if voters reject the tax-increase proposal.
But that prospect would be difficult. Donors would have to come forward with at least $5 million to cover half of the construction cost, replacing the money the increased property tax would raise to pay down a 30-year loan. The library currently has $5.3 million in an endowment that it wants to use to cover the rest.
In the end, council members asked for more information on an issue that some City Hall observers predicted would be resolved quickly, and they directed library Director Kathy Chandler and the team of library consultants to return in two weeks with a lot of answers and perhaps a redesign.
Complicating matters for some council members was the fact that the city is planning major repairs to the Rio Grande Parking Garage, a project that has to be tackled soon. Galena Plaza sits atop the garage. Designs for the library, garage and plaza all have to be integrated.
“My concern is the integration with the plaza,” Councilman Torre said. “I would hate to do something with the library that precludes the activities that go on currently in the plaza or the program that we’re looking to do, and I still don’t feel like I have assurances from city staff and the library that those are integrated appropriately and fully.”
Torre said he needs to hear more about the city’s plans for the plaza and to what extent it will serve the community.
“I would hate to approve a building, canopy included, that casts a shadow, that prohibits actual usage of that plaza,” he said.
Ireland noted that the council can’t legally consider the other factors that library supporters voiced during the public-hearing portion of the meeting.
“We are constrained to decide only scale and mass issues,” he said. “I can’t vote for this because I like children’s programs. I can’t vote for this because I think we need meeting space. I can’t vote for it because I think it’s pretty.”
The two-story addition on the library’s eastern side would add 7,198 square feet – 5,899 on the main level and 1,299 on the mezzanine level. The library building now has 31,703 square feet of floor space on three levels.
Highlights of the library expansion plan include:
• A new children’s library to accommodate enhanced educational programs, including an interactive learning center and storytelling area.
• Expansion of the teen library with small study areas and tutoring space.
• Flexible large and small meeting-room space, including a community room for use during and outside the library’s regular hours.
• Relocation of the most popular library collections for improved access.
• Renovation of the existing space in keeping with the library’s original character and to maximize views and light.