City OKs Galena and Main building |

City OKs Galena and Main building

Janet Urquhart

A four-story building at the northwest corner of Galena and Main streets won City Council approval Monday despite a brief spat between council members that threatened to defeat the development proposal.The building is essentially the same one, structurally, that voters nixed last fall when a new visitor center and Aspen Chamber Resort Association offices were to be housed there.Now, the building will include commercial space on the ground floor, facing Main Street, three affordable rental units on the second floor and a free-market residence on the third floor. A fourth level is below ground from the Main Street facade, but opens to a sunken rear courtyard. The building will be added to the existing two-story building, which appears as one story from Main Street.No ACRA uses are planned for the building, said Rick Jones, chairman of the chamber board of directors.The council approved the project on a 3-1 vote with Councilman Torre dissenting. In his remarks, he acknowledged the project appeared destined to pass with the votes of his three colleagues; Councilman Terry Paulson was absent.Councilwoman Rachel Richards then threatened to reverse her vote, killing the project with a 2-2 tie. It’s unfair to vote against the project when it meets all of the city’s zoning regulations, she said, suggesting Torre was courting constituents who oppose the project with the assurance that it would pass anyway thanks to a tough decision by the rest of the council.”I have a lot of constituents who would like me to vote no,” she said.”I don’t feel it fits within the historic character of this corner,” Torre countered, explaining his stance. “This type of structure is not what I want to see on Main Street USA and Main Street Aspen.”Several members of the public also opposed the project, focusing on the voters’ decision last fall.”I think we as voters basically said we don’t want to see a structure of this magnitude at this site,” said Aspenite Sue Geist.”The project itself is identical to the one that was submitted and turned down – rejected by voters,” said Sharon Engel Ruhnau, who, with her husband, owns a condo in the Galena Lofts building behind the proposed development. The views from the Galena Lofts will be blocked by the new construction and council members were empathetic, but said they couldn’t reject the project for that reason.And the voters’ decision last fall seemed to be directed at the visitor center component, noted Richards.”I can’t extrapolate from that election exactly what this issue was,” she said. “The thrust seemed to be that it was a bad place for a visitor center.”I cannot find a legitimate reason to vote no,” Richards said.”Unless we want to freeze everything in town and buy it all up, people have a right to improve their property,” added Councilman Tim Semrau.Last November’s vote repealed a rezoning for the project approved by the council. This time, the building’s uses require no rezoning. Galena Lofts homeowners sued the city after it approved the visitor center project last year and city attorney John Worcester appeared to be bracing Monday for more litigation. He instructed the applicant’s architects to verbally note the identifying number on each architectural rendering they referenced in their presentation so it could be noted in the formal record of the council’s proceedings.In addition, local resident Toni Kronberg, who helped circulate a referendum petition to put the visitor center project on the November ballot, said yesterday there’s “a strong possibility” the latest project will be the subject of a referendum petition, as well.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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