Auto center near North Forty draws ire |

Auto center near North Forty draws ire

Brent Gardner-Smith

In a case of “Not In My New Front Yard,” some Pitkin County locals who purchased lots in the North Forty subdivision are opposing a proposed auto-center development on the parcel of land between their new homes and Highway 82.

“It’s a huge impact on our neighborhood,” said Jackie Francis, the secretary of the North Forty homeowners association. She is building a house across from what could become the “Aspen Airport Auto Center.”

The auto center is being proposed by Chris Smith, owner of the gas station and car wash at the Aspen Airport Business Center on Highway 82. He wants to create an expanded automotive facility at a planned new entrance of the North Forty project, just slightly downvalley from the current intersection that also serves the airport.

Smith points out that he’s taken a lot of steps to mitigate the impacts of his proposal, such as extensive landscaping, and has also met with North Forty’s architectural committee.

“I’m sure open to talking about it, but we have done a lot of work on the project to mitigate the impacts we might have,” Smith said.

Smith’s proposal describes how “a low running wall will screen the [North Forty] subdivision from both sound and car headlights” and cites the “care exercised in blending the Aspen Airport Automotive Center with the residential area of the North Forty subdivision through the use of open space, planting and a low running wall …”

The new intersection, scheduled to be built in 2002, would double as the new entrance to the entire airport business center as well as the gateway to North Forty, where homes are currently sprouting in view of the highway.

The auto center would include a new gas station with a high-tech canopy over the gas pumps, a car rental office, a 4,300-square-foot car wash building and a quick-lube facility. It would also include use of the existing gas station building as an auto repair shop. In addition, the existing car wash would be replaced with a large self-storage facility, most of which would be built below ground.

“In my opinion, the car wash is the most obtrusive,” said Francis, whose new house would be directly across the street from the proposed two-story facility. “We feel that this is too much.”

The car wash would have room for two automatic wash bays and four self-service bays. The current car wash has one automatic bay and three self-service bays . A third building on the new site would house a quick-lube service with three bays.

The new intersection prompting the project was required by Pitkin County during the approval of the North Forty project, which created lots to be sold to local employees so that they could build their own homes, albeit ones with a resale price cap. The project also includes a new building for the Aspen campus of Colorado Mountain College and the parcel intended for commercial uses.

The county had concerns that the existing business center intersection would no longer function adequately with the addition of the North Forty project, so they required developer John McBride to pay $200,000 toward a new intersection just downvalley from the current traffic light.

If the intersection is moved, Smith’s Airport Amoco gas station and car wash would no longer be at the main entrance to the business center, which sees up to 3,400 cars a day coming and going. So on Nov. 15, Smith formally applied to the county to create the Aspen Airport Automotive Center.

The North Forty project, located between a bluff overlooking the Roaring Fork River and Highway 82, already has to contend with being near the RFTA bus facility, the highway, the airport, the business center and a sewage treatment plant.

In response to homeowners’ concerns, the county commissioners have set a work session for Dec. 12 to review the new intersection.

“I think it is worth revisiting,” said Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper, who herself is building a home in the North Forty. “What we designed there wasn’t perfect, but we wanted to have an option.”

Smith’s proposal must be approved under seven areas of the land-use code, including a rezoning of the property, which is currently designated for affordable housing. And under an agreement with Smith, it must also be approved by McBride, who still controls the commercial parcel.

“He has to get approval from me for the design,” said McBride. “He’s a ways off. I don’t think you’ll see what’s proposed built out there. I think everybody is prepared to look at this and see what can be worked out.”

Both McBride and the homeowners indicated that Smith’s proposal, which has been dubbed “Auto Nation” by some, is markedly different than the commercial development that was anticipated on the parcel. The North Forty development was pitched as a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood for working locals, and while the residential portion of the project seems to be living up to that goal, many residents were anticipating commercial development along the lines of stores such as a deli, video rental or convenience store.

“The commercial was to be accessory to the homes,” said Roy Harper.

However, the county clearly anticipated that the car wash and the gas station would relocate to the new intersection.

The subdivision improvements agree

ment between the developer and Pitkin County states that “the county acknowledges that it is [the developer’s] intention to seek to rezone [the property] … in order to permit the possible relocation of the current businesses located adjacent to the existing entrance of the Airport Business Center to the proposed entrance. The current businesses include, but are limited to, the Amoco service station and car wash …”

In addition, McBride owns another commercial parcel located between CMC and the proposed auto center location, so there is opportunity to provide commercial services that might be more “accessory” to the new neighborhood.

And while the North Forty homeowners association wants to explore with the county the notion of backing off the new intersection and improving the existing one, it may not be that simple. The Aspen airport is in the midst of a major planning effort to redesign the traffic circulation, and county engineers feel that the new intersection would be an improvement for the airport over the existing one. In addition, the current airport intersection has a poor pedestrian-crossing layout, and people often run across the highway to reach the bus stops instead of walking down and crossing at the light.

If Smith is successful in moving the gas station and the car wash, he plans to remove the existing car wash structure at the business center and then dig down two stories. A four-story, 43,200-square-foot building would emerge out of the hole, consisting of two underground levels of self-storage space, one above-ground level of storage and, topping it off, another story consisting of five employee housing units and a free-market apartment.

Smith also owns the building that houses Mountain Naturals, a health food store, and behind that, CLS Transportation Inc., a limousine rental business. Under the plan, the section of the building housing CLS would be torn down and that business would relocate. The health food store is proposed to be expanded by 1,000 square feet.

And in a blending of Aspen culture and commerce, the new gas station’s pumps would be covered by rigid canopies “constructed of non-reflective material and reminiscent of the music tent,” the proposal notes. The architect for the proposed facility is Harry Teague, who designed the Aspen music tent.

“This really does become the entrance to Aspen,” Smith said. “So we are making a real effort to give it a mountain resort flair and to make it both attractive and functional.

“It’s a neat opportunity to do something that’s a little different and kind of fun.”

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