Builder awaits city manager’s decision on Aspen parking spaces

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – City Manager Steve Barwick is expected to decide Thursday whether the developer of the property that formerly housed the Gap and other retailers at 204 S. Galena St. can take up more than a dozen parking spaces for construction staging from this month until the project is completed sometime before the year’s end.

Barwick recently required the City Engineer’s Office to get feedback from various entities, including the organizers of the Aspen Saturday Market and the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, before issuing a building permit to the developer’s contractor, Centaur Construction.

The market gave its blessing, and the commission met on the matter Wednesday morning at City Hall. There, Chairman Don Cheeley was the lone voice in calling for a compromise that would return half of the lost 13 or 14 spaces that Centaur needs at the southeast corner of East Hopkins and South Galena. In a voice vote of commissioners, he was defeated overwhelmingly.

“I just hate to see that many parking spaces gone just for a project to build this. There’s got to be some other way that this can be done, to give us some parking spaces back,” Cheeley said.

The developer, listed as 204 South Galena LLC – Chicago real estate investor Mark Hunt is behind the group – wants to replace the building with a new one that would include five retail spaces, a second-story restaurant and an outdoor deck.

Representatives of the developer – including architect Charles Cunniffe – said both sides of the corner are necessary for logistical reaons if the project is to be completed in eight months. Otherwise, the project would require more time and money – as well as further inconvenience to the community.

“The quickest way for us to get this done is to have full access to the site,” Cunniffe said.

Barwick said “strong direction” from the City Council at a work session last year was to further minimize the on-street impacts of construction.

“The biggest change that was made was they said there shall be no more than one season of right-of-way rental to somebody putting up a building,” said Barwick, adding that the council wasn’t so concerned about offseasons.

Barwick said he would make the decision administratively but that he planned to seek input from Mayor Mick Ireland and council members. He said the decision could be precedent-setting.

“We never got into the detail of whether or not if the lot is on a corner, you can have both sides of it,” he told commission members. “So this is our first test case about that, and that’s really where we stand, looking for your input. Eventually, it’s going to fall to me to make a decision here.”

Barwick said that if he rules against the company’s request for a variance that would allow builders to use the spaces for staging, the company might be able to appeal the decision to the council.

“But the bottom line is, the direction from City Council is (to minimize the impacts of construction),” he said.

Cheeley noted that downtown businesses not only will be negatively affected by the loss in parking spaces at the corner of the former Gap location, but they already are suffering from the loss of 17 spaces at East Hyman Avenue and South Spring Street, taken up by construction of the 30,000-square-foot Aspen Art Museum project. That project is not expected to be finished until spring 2014.

Other projects this year and next are expected to deplete the city’s downtown parking inventory, Cheeley said.

Commissioner Terry Butler said government shouldn’t stand in the way “of a really good project.”

“I believe that when good people come into town – we don’t get that many good ones, but when we get a good developer, by God, we get behind him,” she said. “We’ve had four years of a downturn in our community. And I have a small hotel, and I have held on by my fingernails. Here, we’ve got somebody in town who is trying to do a development quickly, in a clean manner. … All of a sudden, we’re throwing more governmental roadblocks in front of him.”

City Engineer Tricia Aragon said the developer, in seeking a final building permit, had a staging plan that didn’t meet city regulations because it sought encroachments on city property downtown during commercial seasons. She said she could have granted the variance, “but I deferred that decision to Steve.”

Torre was the only council member present at the meeting. He commented that the development group could have offered a compromise. Cheeley suggested that the developer could free up four or five spaces during the spring offseason.

“When I hear things like, ‘This is the only thing we can do,’ that doesn’t sound like a position for compromise for me,” Torre said. “I see the direction of where this is going. I have been talking to staff, and sometimes even fighting with them at times, about public right-of-way encroachment. It’s a concern of mine, and it always has been, how construction affects the regular person living here in Aspen.”