Ballot question for expansion of Pitkin County Library likely in November |

Ballot question for expansion of Pitkin County Library likely in November

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy of Pitkin County LibraryThis artist's sketch depicts the possible look of Aspen's Galena Plaza next to an expanded Pitkin County Library, right.

ASPEN – Nothing has been decided officially yet, but it’s looking as though Pitkin County voters will be asked on Nov. 6 to approve a property tax increase to help pay for construction of a proposed $10 million library expansion and to cover operating costs associated with the extra space.

The Board of County Commissioners has until the end of August to put the tax-increase question on the fall ballot. Plans for the library project are being weighed by the Aspen City Council, and a presentation and public hearing on the proposal have been scheduled for Monday evening at City Hall.

The library has $5.3 million in an endowment that can be used to pay for half of the construction costs, Library Director Kathy Chandler said last week. The other half would be covered by a 30-year loan, with revenue from the property tax increase covering the loan’s estimated $363,000 annual debt – if voters support the idea.

The financing concept, as it exists today, also includes an estimated $163,000 annually from the property tax increase to cover extra operating costs related to the additional space. The library building, between Galena Plaza and North Mill Street, now has 31,703 square feet of floor space on three levels. 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.

County Treasurer Tom Oken estimated that residential property owners would pay $12.21 per year for each $1 million of assessed value. Commercial properties would pay a higher rate. He stressed, however, that his figures are estimates and that at this point, the ballot question and property tax increase are concepts.

“We would ask for a revenue stream to pay off a $5 million loan over a 30-year period, and included with that would be some operating revenue for the library to cover things like the utilities, cleaning and the capital-replacement schedule that would be needed for this added area,” Chandler said.

“The building would be a little bit bigger, and it would cost a little more to run it,” she added. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’ve gotten voters’ permission to build the addition and then not be able to afford to run it.”

Chandler said that the library was ready to put a question on the ballot last fall, but county commissioners gave higher election priority to the Healthy Community Fund tax extension, which voters approved. Commissioners didn’t want to put two tax questions on the November 2011 ballot.

“I feel like they’re ready to put it on this year’s ballot, but time will tell,” Chandler said.

The library moved forward with designs following a needs assessment by a library consultant and community meetings to gather public input. 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 teens library with small study areas and tutoring space.

• Flexible large and small meeting-room space, including a community room for use during and outside of the library’s regular hours.

• Relocation of the most popular library collections for improved access.

• Reconfiguration of pathways and book stacks to address safety and security concerns and to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

• Renovation of the existing space in keeping with the library’s original character and to maximize views and light.

• Upgrade of technological infrastructure to support digital collections and computer work areas.

• Greater connectivity to the city’s planned redesign of Galena Plaza, with amenities such as a covered walkway, an outdoor reading deck, wireless hotspot access and close proximity to a children’s play area and a venue for outdoor performances and events.

In April, the city Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to approve the library’s plans. The decision amounts to a recommendation to the City Council, which is “wearing two hats” in the review process, according to a city staff memorandum. The council is the review body for the land-use approvals and also is the property owner that the expansion is proposed upon.

Despite the positive vote, planning and zoning commissioners did have a few concerns, especially with regard to a large canopy that would extend from the library’s roof over a fraction of Galena Plaza. It’s designed to cover an area 16 feet from the library’s eastern door. The canopy would create a covered porch, giving library users protection from the elements while reading outside or enjoying whatever’s going on in the plaza.

In his motion calling for the Planning and Zoning Commission to recommend that the City Council approve the project, Commissioner Bert Myrin also added a suggestion that the proposal’s applicant – the library board, Chandler and county commissioners – rethink the roof size “to make it appear less imposing.”

He also recommended that an audit be conducted one year and three years after the expansion is completed to determine whether the new addition has generated any new employees. The library is maintaining that the project is not subject to local employee-housing mitigation requirements because it would not create the need for any additional workers.

Council members will have to consider the questions about the canopy and employee-housing rules. At their May 29 regular meeting, when the ordinance for the library project was introduced, Mayor Mick Ireland noted that the review would probably be less stringent than others the council usually conducts for development applications because voters will have the ultimate say about whether the initiative moves forward.

In brief remarks, Councilman Torre suggested that scrutiny of the project would likely ruffle a few feathers in the community.

“You know, trying to have a hearing about a library expansion is probably close to a church wanting to move to Main Street or the hospital expanding,” Torre said. “It’s not necessarily a train you want to stand in front of. I hear the whistle.”

Torre said he would have more questions Monday about what’s driving the need for the canopy and more meeting space.

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