City and ACES consider swap of Puppy Smith |

City and ACES consider swap of Puppy Smith

A potential land swap that would turn the city’s Puppy Smith property over to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies could render the results of a November ballot question moot.

City staffers will ask the Aspen City Council on Oct. 14 to withdraw this fall’s vote on the proposed sale of the Puppy Smith parcel for a housing project, said City Manager Steve Barwick. Since the ballots have already been printed, if the council agrees with the withdrawal, the city will just ignore any votes cast on the issue.

The ACES board of directors recently voted to enter into a joint planning process with the city that might mean swapping the parcel at 220 Puppy Smith St. for the ACES-owned property that currently contains a dirt parking lot, just behind the Aspen post office.

“In rough, conceptual terms, we have an agreement with them,” Barwick said. “But what we’ll really do is enter into a master plan process for the entire parcel, including for the wetlands area.”

Tom Cardamone, ACES executive director, said the city’s plan to construct a wetlands in the vicinity of the Puppy Smith property and ACES was the catalyst for the new planning effort.

Currently, he said, when it rains in downtown Aspen, some of the water drains into storm sewers that lead to the Roaring Fork River via Jenny Adair Park, located between ACES and the river, west of the Rio Grande Trail.

The park currently contains an ineffective settling pond that often allows toxins in the storm water to reach the river, according to Cardamone.

He said ACES has been talking with the parks department and the city engineer about creating a series of shallow wetlands in that area, where plants and bacteria would filter toxins out of the water. A filter beneath the street could help separate out debris.

The land swap would give the city a site for some housing and retain the Puppy Smith parcel, located just east of ACES, as open space (it currently contains a small cottage).

“One approach to that is making a trade with the city so the city had a place right nearby on ACES land to put housing, and then the current 220 Puppy Smith parcel would become open space, the entry to ACES, and maybe landscaped as a scenic overlook of the wetlands,” Cardamone said.

The city may also turn over to ACES a patch of forest on the river that’s part of Jenny Adair Park – a quarter-acre plot that includes rare balsam poplars, he said.

But Cardamone noted that first, the swap must be approved by the Paepcke family. ACES’ Hallam Lake campus at the end of Puppy Smith Street was donated by the late Elizabeth Paepcke, but is deed restricted for conservation. Her family must approve trading a piece of the ACES’ property to the city.

“It’s fair to say that there is a general conceptual agreement to all of this, but anything we do with the property goes back to the Paepcke family,” he said. “If it works, we’ll have a far more attractive entrance to ACES, and to the Rio Grande Trail. Everyone who has been talking about this at a city level and ACES has been fairly excited about the possibility without losing sight of the details.”

Though the future of the Puppy Smith property is now up in the air, Referendum 2D on the city’s November ballot seeks voter authorization to sell the property and reimburse $250,000 to Aspen’s open space fund. Open space dollars were used to buy the land.

The ballot question outlines plans to renovate the existing cottage and build two new deed-restricted units there. In addition, the city would have to replace the lost open space with another, equivalent property.

The land swap with ACES is a much better idea, according to Barwick.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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