Chapel arts center falls from grace | AspenTimes.com

Chapel arts center falls from grace

Chad Abraham

Scaled-back plans for a new Snowmass Chapel no longer include a performing arts center. But that has done little to appease opponents, who contend the building is still too big and should not dominate the village’s landscape. Accusations of religious discrimination and the huge growth on the horizon with Base Village have inflamed the issue further.A letter from the chapel’s land planner to the town planning department last month mentioned, as a “prevailing” consideration, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, according to a recent Snowmass Village Sun article.The federal statute, passed in 2000, provides stronger protection for religious freedom in land-use issues. By bringing it up, opponents believe the chapel is hinting that it may sue the town under the anti-discrimination act if the plan fails.Chaplain Edgell Pyles has said the chapel does not want to use the law to gain an exemption from town land-use codes.To win the town’s OK, however, one story has been lopped off the proposed building, Pyles said recently. The structure would now be 55 feet tall, with a steeple rising above that.”Maybe we were naive or not realistic enough of the process of the community,” Pyles said. “We obviously saw it as a contribution to the community of not only a church, but the original plan was literally a concert hall/performing arts center for Snowmass Village.”A variety of musical programs could have taken place there, including performances involving an elite Fisk organ, chapel supporters said. The building’s proposed mass, height and scale, which exceed the town’s building code, were necessary in the interest of acoustics.The town refused to grant the requisite variances, “so now we have lowered the height and we are before the town with a lower roof line,” Pyles said. “But that eliminated the concert hall and the performing arts center and the organ.”The newest design before the Town Council is probably the sixth or seventh iteration over five years, he said. The chapel has spent more than $700,000 during the planning process.”One meeting, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, this looks fine.’ The next meeting they say, ‘Oops, it doesn’t look good this week.’ And nothing’s changed on the design,” Pyles said. “What has changed is community complaints.”The main issue is the height, he said. However, chapel officials are proposing a structure that would have long-term benefits for the town, he said.”If you think about what’s happening in Snowmass with Base Village and the [other] changes, I think it’s in the eye of the beholder. If Base Village had not passed, we would not have continued on this,” he said. “We were building parallel with what is going to happen with this community.”Pyles envisions the town trying to raise money in 10 or 15 years for a concert hall or performing arts center.Chapel opponent Robin Riggs said that, if anything, council members have been too accommodating. While the view out one of her home’s windows would be affected, she said it is important to note that opponents are not just in neighboring housing developments.She called for personal sentiment to be removed from the town’s decision-making process, in favor of “stringent review that would be applied to anybody.”A decision by the council is expected at the end of the month or in early February. Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com