Council cool to redevelopment plan for Mountain Plaza building in Aspen
ASPEN – The latest plans to demolish and redevelop a building in the heart of downtown haven’t impressed the Aspen City Council enough to approve it – yet.The council on Monday reviewed the development proposal for the Mountain Plaza Building, which is located on the northwest corner of Galena Street and the Cooper Avenue Mall.Council members, residents and business owners expressed concern over the impacts that construction would have on what’s been characterized as the premiere corner of downtown Aspen.Mitch Haas, land planner for the project, said construction would take 30 months, with 20 of them impacting surrounding neighbors and general activity in the downtown core the most.”We all live through these things,” he said of other projects that have occurred in the downtown core. He added that a full, detailed construction management plan will be presented to the council in the future.Council members said they want a full construction management plan that details limited construction hours, staging areas, where construction trucks would park and how impacts to the public would be minimized.Councilman Dwayne Romero said he wants a separate meeting that focuses solely on the construction management plan. Mayor Mick Ireland suggested that the council have a site visit at the building and surrounding properties to hear what 80 decibels of construction noise sounds like.He also said he wants assurances that the developer has enough financial backing to see the project through and it isn’t left unfinished, which has occurred at some construction sites around town.”How do I prevent half a Dancing Bear or the Main Street climbing wall,” he asked, referencing two uncompleted projects that have been halted because of developers’ financial woes.Other council members said they want the new building to “activate” the Galena Street side more than what is being proposed.Plans for the corner include a setback from the pedestrian mall, which allows for a plaza-style setting.An earlier proposal had the building out to the lot line, leaving no pedestrian area. The current plan has a setback of 18 feet facing Galena Street and 60 feet on the mall, giving room for people to circulate around the building. The setbacks also attempt to break up the perceived mass of the building and to better relate to the historic context of downtown, according to Haas and the project’s architect, John Rowland.Romero said the development team needs to work harder with surrounding neighbors who are opposed to the project. He also said his future vote will be contingent on the project’s scale, height and mass, as well as how it affects the neighborhood character and construction impacts.”This is an exceptional corner that requires an exceptional response,” he said, adding how construction impacts are addressed will be a key factor for his approval. “For better or worse, your team will be under the microscope.”Council members said the latest proposal has made great strides to address previous concerns, but it’s not enough. They said they could support the project if the development team can address all of their concerns.More than two dozen people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. The majority of those against the project cited construction impacts, which they said would severely hurt their businesses.Those who support the project cited that the aging building causes problems for tenants, including the plumbing, heating, electrical and exterior systems. As such, the decades-old building needs a complete overhaul.Rowland said the building was designed horribly.”My first feeling was that something awful happened here,” Rowland said, adding it’s symbolic of the “crap that was built in the ’60s and ’70s.”Both Ireland and Councilman Steve Skadron agreed the current sunken courtyard is a bad design element that should be removed.”You don’t walk over it unless you’re magic,” Ireland said.Under the current proposal, the courtyard, which is one of the building’s more recognizable features, would be eliminated.The street level would contain four commercial spaces, a pedestrian area along the mall and an entryway to the basement and upper floors.The mixed-use project includes three levels from the street and two below ground. The entire building would contain commercial space, affordable housing and free-market residential units. Commercial space accounts for 11,433 square feet; affordable housing takes up 1,567 square feet; and free-market residential is 5,078 square feet.The below-ground space includes two levels, which would accommodate a 10-car parking garage that would be accessed by an auto lift. The basement space would be 5,160 square feet of commercial or office space, as well as a storage area.The second level would have three commercial spaces, one free-market studio and two one-bedroom employee housing units. The third level contains two free-market residential units and deck space.In 2007, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission approved the building for demolition. That decision was appealed to the City Council, but demolition approval was upheld.The planning and zoning commission had recommended that the building be subdivided for condominiums. The council denied the subdivision request but approved reconsideration of the application. The new design was remanded back to the HPC and P&Z, and is now before the council.The development team will spend the next few weeks tweaking the proposal and come back to the council with a modified firstname.lastname@example.org
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