Best use of Main St. parcel: county government?
August 31, 2005
Space to accommodate Pitkin County government’s future needs rose to the top of potential uses for the Zupancis parcel on Main Street during a brief discussion Thursday by a city advisory committee.With the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department’s announcement last week that it isn’t interested in relocating its headquarters to the site, the door has been thrown open to other potential developments on the prime locale next door to the county’s courthouse annex building.It currently contains a house, garage and several temporary structures that are housing businesses displaced by the construction of nearby Obermeyer Place, a mix of residential and commercial properties under development next to Rio Grande Park.In the long term, however, several members of the city’s Civic Master Plan Advisory Committee said they’d rather see the county expand onto the site than move more of its services outside the town core.The city purchased the Zupancis parcel in 2002 for $3 million. There have been no discussions about a property deal with the county, but Mayor Helen Klanderud said she expects the private sector to come forward with offers to buy the parcel.But she, along with other committee members, decried the potential for a big, new county building on Aspen’s periphery.”We have such an advantage here with our government public-service offices right in the middle of town,” Klanderud said. “I think that’s an advantage many other communities wish they had.””I personally would not like to see the county move out of town,” said committee member Sue Smedstad.The county, however, is short on space and may eventually have to provide another courtroom for the 9th Judicial District. It has launched a feasibility study to determine if it needs a new facility, where it should be located and what should be housed there. The Aspen Business Center, near the airport, is a possible locale.Some 70 percent of the county’s employees live downvalley from Aspen, but future facilities will be located with the public in mind, said Brian Pettet, director of public works.”We’re not looking at employee needs, but our customer needs,” he said.Given traffic congestion at Highway 82’s S-curves on the western edge of town, the county wants to strike a balance between the needs of residents beyond the S-curves with those in town, Pettet said.Committee member Kathy Chandler, Pitkin County librarian, called the S-curves the “gorilla” in the room.”People who don’t live on the other side have no concept of what life is like on the other side of the curves,” she said.The fire department, in declining the Zupancis parcel, decided it could build the facility it envisions at the ABC to serve the growing west side of its district without trying to get fire trucks through the S-curves in heavy traffic. The department would keep its present headquarters on Hopkins Avenue to serve the town. Building at the ABC will be cheaper – a key consideration, added Fire Chief Darryl Grob, a committee member.”It didn’t make financial sense to move the station to the Zupancis parcel,” he said.Other possible uses for the Zupancis property mentioned Wednesday were a future arts facility, Main Street visitor center and worker housing.The city borrowed money from its housing fund to buy the property; the money must be repaid unless worker housing is built there.The Civic Master Plan Advisory Committee has been studying potential future uses of various public parcels for several years. One of its draft findings, yet to be voted on by the committee, notes the importance of government functions in the core.”Removing civic functions from the downtown will tend to reduce the kind of community character that still makes the core of Aspen a ‘traditional’ downtown, surrounded by the resort environment,” reads one of the proposed findings.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org