Council gets look at Rio Grande future | AspenTimes.com

Council gets look at Rio Grande future

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Can one of Aspen’s grittiest commercial zones be buffed up without its tenants leaving because of higher rents in new, fancier digs?

Should the main access through the area be on Rio Grande Place as it is today or on an enlarged East Bleeker Street?

And how much free-market housing should be included in the new buildings to help pay for the redevelopment of the commercial area that is supposed to serve locals?

Those are some of the questions that a group of city of Aspen planners and citizens have been asking as they look at ways to redevelop the commercial area between Rio Grande Park and the Concept 600 building on Main Street.

The group presented the result of months of work and hours of meetings on Tuesday evening to three members of the Aspen City Council in a work session.

To date, their work has resulted in a conceptual plan for the area that seeks to keep the existing businesses up and running, but doing so in a new series of buildings that are more attractive, function better and also allow for additional sections of Rio Grande Park to look more like a park and less like industrial areas.

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A goal of the plan is to keep the commercial rents in the area affordable through a combination of design and zoning that restricts the businesses to those that serve residents.

The planning group received mostly positive feedback from the council members for the key concept in their plan. The concept involves taking out a section of Rio Grande Place near the city’s recycling center and, in its place, enlarging East Bleeker Street, which is today more of an alley than a street.

“I like this alignment and don’t have any problem with it,” said Councilman Tony Hershey.

The group is working under the ungainly name of the Obermeyer COWOP. The Obermeyer in the name is Klaus Obermeyer, the founder and owner of Sport Obermeyer, a leading ski clothing designer and manufacturer.

Obermeyer owns several buildings in the commercial area, where such businesses as Auto Tech, the Aspen Branch and Aspen Painting have leased space for years at relatively affordable rates.

“COWOP” stands for “Convenience and Welfare of the Public” and is the label given to a land-use process that operates in cooperation with the city’s planning staff prior to a formal application being submitted to the city.

Chris Bendon, a long-range planner for the city, said most applications that are presented to the council come in the form of “fully baked cakes.” But the COWOP process allows the city some input into a cake’s ingredients long before it gets put in the oven.

On Tuesday, it was clear that the citizens, landowners and neighbors who have been working on the Obermeyer COWOP have spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

A detailed series of maps, sketches and plans was presented to the council by John Cottle and Bob Schiller of the architectural firm of Cottle, Graybeal and Yaw.

The work they presented showed the evolution of the group’s thinking on how to redevelop not only Obermeyer’s property, but also two adjacent parcels owned by Gailen Smith and Bill Murphy, where business such as Aspen Custom Glass and The Gym are today.