Commissioners favor phasing Aspen airport project
ASPEN – A five-phase approach to transitioning from the existing commercial facilities at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport to a new terminal and a parking garage won general favor with county commissioners Tuesday, though the garage itself and the number of additional parking spaces remained sticking points. And one commissioner balked at the prospect of a terminal that is nearly double the size of the current building.A master plan for future airport facilities has been under review for more than a year, and commissioners continued to refine the proposal this week as a consulting team and airport officials work toward a final plan that is expected to be ready for review in July. Detailed financial information is expected in May.The new, 20-year master plan is a Federal Aviation Administration requirement and will designate space for future facilities that might or might not actually be constructed, said Jim Elwood, airport aviation director.”It’s a space-reservation plan,” he said.”It is about allowing the Board of County Commissioners to respond to any improvement proposal that comes forward,” said consultant Mark McFarland, of Barnard Dunkelberg & Co.Because the airport accepts federal dollars for various projects, the county has to respond to development proposals – allowing more than one fixed-base operator, for example – but it can determine where those facilities should go and has oversight over the size and aesthetics of what’s built, Elwood said.A second fixed-base operator on the west, or Owl Creek Road, side of the runway has been accommodated in the master planning so far, though some commissioners have pushed to keep all additional development on the east or Highway 82 side, where it currently exists.”I am not convinced we can’t fit two minimum-standard (fixed-base operators) on the east side,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.Space constraints would make putting two fixed-base operators on the east side difficult, according to consultants.The existing fixed-base operator, operated by Atlantic Aviation, provides services to general aviation, or private aircraft, and sells fuel to both private and commercial operators.On Tuesday, consultants presented a plan that eliminates sites for large, private aircraft hangars on the west side of the airport – buildings that could measure 14,400 square feet and be as tall as 30 feet – and envisions only small, enclosed hangars on the east side, which would be about as tall as the existing “patio hangars” that provide only a roof over airplanes.Commissioners also were shown computerized images depicting potential buildings on both the east and west sides as they would be seen from various spots.”We thought it would be important for you to understand how these things would look, mass-wise, from various viewing angles,” McFarlane said.Hatfield continued to be the most critical of the plan, decrying the need to build “the Taj Mahal of airports.”The existing terminal is 45,000 square feet in size, but current needs dictate a facility of 64,000 square feet, consultant Tim Malloy said. The master plan calls for an 80,000-square-foot building based on future projections of airport use and security requirements. Two stories are envisioned, and the building would be raised 7 feet above the elevation of the existing building to solve drainage problems.”I’m not convinced at all that we need an 80,000-square-foot terminal,” Hatfield said. “I absolutely do not support underground parking.”Several commissioners called for more discussion about parking needs for customers, rental cars and employees. Underground parking with a landscaped roof would consolidate 926 spaces scattered about the airport now and meet projected future needs with some 1,300 spaces in all.Commissioner Rachel Richards said a plan that includes a level of surface parking to cut costs should be explored, while Commissioner Michael Owsley called for a “robust” discussion about parking at a future date.The phased approach to construction, which commissioners asked to be analyzed, would allow use of the existing terminal while other elements are developed, including construction of a new concourse, changes to the aircraft parking apron outside the terminal and construction of the parking structure. Ultimately, the rest of a new terminal would be built, connecting to the new concourse, and the present terminal would be razed. The ballpark financial estimate for the terminal and associated improvements is $121 million.The projects won’t happen unless they’re financially feasible and the community deems them necessary, Elwood predicted. Everything envisioned in a 20-year plan won’t be constructed immediately, he said.It’s anticipated that federal funds will contribute significantly to airport improvements, though private enterprise could fund projects, particularly those associated with general aviation.”There’s not going to be any facilities that are proposed that are not financially feasible,” McFarlane said.While commissioners continue to fine-tune the master plan, the proposal as it currently stands began making the rounds within the community this week. Presentations to various groups are planned. The first occurred Monday with the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Caucus. Presentations to the Aspen Rotary and Aspen Board of Realtors are scheduled Thursday.firstname.lastname@example.org
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