Aspen Jewish center plan raises traffic issues |

Aspen Jewish center plan raises traffic issues

ASPEN ” A proposal to put a Jewish community center at the end of Ute Avenue on Aspen’s east side has raised traffic concerns among residents and elected officials that must be addressed before approval is granted.

Jeff Ream, a Denver-based traffic engineer hired by the Jewish Resource Center Chabad of Aspen, told the Aspen City Council on Monday that a new Jewish Community Center at the former Silver Lining Ranch would generate 125 car trips a day. That’s about 100 car trips more than what was generated by the former ranch ” a nonprofit retreat designed for kids afflicted with cancer.

But Ream said when that’s compared to the current 1,500 car trips along Ute Avenue on a daily basis, it’s not a significant increase. He told the council that during the morning peak time, the center’s preschool operation would generate 35 trips, or one trip every two minutes. In the afternoon, that would be reduced to one trip every five minutes, he added.

“That is a relatively minor increase in traffic,” Ream said. “It’s probably going to get lost in the wash.”

But that’s not the impression some residents along Ute Avenue have. About a dozen people spoke against the proposal, many of whom argue that Ute Avenue is dangerous and already heavily burdened with traffic.

A slightly fewer number of people spoke in favor of the Jewish Community Center moving to the existing 14,000-square-foot building, nestled against the Stillwater open space and the Aspen Club.

Supporters say it’s a more suitable location than the original facility, which was going to be built on Main Street where the L’Auberge D’Aspen cabins now sit. Supporters also say the former ranch is a perfect setting for children to learn and engage with one another, which is a mission of the Jewish Community Center.

Rabbi Mendel Mintz, who runs the Jewish Resource Center Chabad of Aspen, said none of the operations at the new center would heavily impact the surrounding areas.

“Our intention is to be a very good neighbor,” he said, adding the Jewish center would limit the number of cars traveling to and from the site with traffic measures.

Aside from the nearly two dozen people who spoke during Monday’s public hearing, written letters supporting and opposing the proposal stacking at least an inch thick were submitted by residents to the council for its consideration.

Silver Lining Ranch representatives told the council that the activities and events planned for the Jewish center are not a greater intensity of use than what the children’s cancer retreat generated during its operation from 1999 to 2006.

Friday and Saturday services at the synagogue would attract between 10 and 40 people. However, as observant Jews, the majority will walk to services, supporters say. Special events, like high holidays, bar mitzvahs and weddings, would be limited to between five and 10 gatherings a year. Because there would only be 20 parking spaces at the center, a shuttle van would bring people to the site, said Alan Richman, an Aspen-based planner who represents the Jewish center.

What appears to be a concern among opponents is that the community center would operate a preschool, which would accommodate up to 40 children a day.

Richman said a shuttle van would pick up and drop off children near Koch Lumber Park in an effort to reduce traffic along Ute Avenue.

“It’s not acceptable that they drive their kids to and from the preschool,” he said.

Bill Fox, a traffic engineer hired by the Stillwater Ranch Homeowners Association ” opponents of the proposal ” questioned the assumption that 75 percent of parents will use the shuttle vans to drop off their young children.

“What if they don’t?” he asked.

Mayor Mick Ireland acknowledged that Ute Avenue has traffic issues, and although they aren’t insurmountable, they’ll have to be addressed.

“We’re going to need some finite traffic limitation on that road,” he said. “We need some target or goal that rations the traffic.”

The council directed the city’s transportation experts to review both sides’ traffic studies and provide an analysis to be presented at a May 11 public hearing.

City Councilman Jack Johnson said there’s a larger issue at play.

“My real concern is discrimination,” he said, adding that he wants city community development officials to answer whether the government has, in the past, put restrictions on other religious institutions in town.

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