Commission favors alley pavilion for St. Mary expansion
St. Mary Catholic Church won conceptual approval for expansion of its facilities that would be built mainly underground, but the majority of parishioners at Wednesday’s meeting weren’t claiming victory.
The Historic Preservation Commission took the suggestion of the Aspen City Council by selecting an expansion option that would put a pavilion and connector along the church’s alley to access a 7,000-square-foot underground social hall. Voting 4-1 for what was called Option A, the commission reversed its field after voting 4-3 March 9 in favor of Option B, which would have put the pavilion and connector in the church’s yard fronting East Main Street.
But at an April 25 meeting, members of the Aspen City Council, in a 3-1 vote, went against the commission’s decision, noting their support of Option A and referred it back to the lower board.
Parishioners and residents spilled out of the City Council Chambers where the Historic Preservation Commission convened, with the larger part wanting the pavilion to front Main Street. They said it would be more efficient while making the church more inviting and bringing vitality to that area of East Main Street.
Opponents, however, pleaded that the glass-like pavilion didn’t mesh with the church’s historic architecture and it would cut into one of Main Street’s two swaths of open space — the other one being Paepcke Park.
“I believe, at the end of the day, if (Option B) was approved our parish would have a huge black eye in this community,” Jack Hatfield said. “We know of previous mistakes in this community, and we do not need to add to it.”
Another longtime parishioner, John Keleher, said Option A was about the building, “while Option B is all about the people.”
The majority of Historic Preservation Commission members, however, said the Main Street pavilion could be to the detriment of the city’s historic fabric.
“I think that open space is part of our cultural heritage,” said Commissioner Nora Berko, adding “there’s very little open space” on Main Street.
Commissioner Gretchen Greenwood added that putting the pavilion by the alley wouldn’t make much of a difference from a functional standpoint.
“The spiritual community won’t be affected by moving that building to the back,” she said.
Michael Brown and Patrick Sagal cast the other votes for Option A.
Bob Blaich voted in dissent, saying he favored “function over form,” borrowing a quote from famed American architect Louis Sullivan. Blaich stayed true to his March 9 vote.
Not attending the meeting were Preservation Commission members Jim DeFrancia, Willis Pember and John Whipple.
While the commission reversed their previous vote, the door remains open for removing the connector between the church and the pavilion, a recommendation of the City Council. St. Mary could do that by amending the approval and getting the Historic Preservation Commission’s support.
It their current iteration, the pavilion and connector would total 1,300 square feet.
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