Council talks parking at Mill Street Station |

Council talks parking at Mill Street Station

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen’s elected leaders on Monday night did not shut down developer Tony Mazza’s proposal to build a new mixed-use project in the parking lot at the Mill Street Station, located along North Mill Street across from Rio Grande Park.

But the members of the Aspen City Council did not give Mazza much hope that the project would waltz through the city’s development review process without major changes.

The issues, for the council members, boiled down to two concerns:

The project, with construction staging, probably would eat up most of the parking spaces at the shopping center for an unknown number of months while the construction was under way, which could badly hurt or even kill some or all of the businesses in the center;

One result of this project could be the kind of traffic congestion on Mill and Puppy Smith streets that would strangle the Service/Commercial/Industrial zone that has taken root in the area.

“If we do something that reduces access to those places, they may die,” declared Mayor Mick Ireland, uncharacteristically arguing that the parking lot, and the cars that fill it, are a necessary part of Aspen’s commercial culture. Ireland normally is at the head of any effort to impose traffic “disincentives” on commuting workers and automobile drivers in general.

And if that happened, Ireland continued, it would not be long before some other developer came along with a plan to redevelop the old shopping center and convert it to “some luxury use” that would not require the kind of high-volume traffic that, say, a grocery store, or a hardware store, or a counter-service restaurant needs to stay afloat.

Mazza, along with his land-use planner, Sunny Vann, described a building that would fill up nearly half of the north side of the parking lot, and which would stretch from Mill Street to the four-way stop sign at the combined entrance to the shopping center and the U.S. postal facility.

The proposal is to build a parking garage at the basement level, with commercial space at ground level and affordable housing on the second story.

The council members all gave Mazza high marks for creative planning in a limited space. J.E. DeVilbiss called it “architecturally attractive,” and Jack Johnson said Mazza had “acted in good faith” in agreeing to work with the town on possible development scenarios for the property.

The council gave greater heed, however, to the words of Tom Clark, owner of Clark’s Market, the largest anchor tenant in the shopping center, who declared that despite the presence of his landlord in the room, “I really, really don’t agree with this project.”

He and others who do business in the center, including Ace Hardware part-owner Vicki Peterson and Shashae owner Heather Kent, warned that the disruption of their business during construction and even afterward, with the reduction in the number of parking spaces, would irrevocably harm their businesses.

“If people can’t park, they won’t shop,” Clark said, explaining that the loss of parking, coupled with expanded competition from the midvalley City Market and Whole Foods, would mean shoppers would “make a 50-mile trip for groceries rather than a mile-and-a-half trip.”

And that, he said, would work against another core city policy, the reduction of automobile traffic on Highway 82.

But rather than simply vote to deny the development application, the council agreed to grant Mazza a boon, which Ireland called “one get out of jail free card.” They continued the project to July 14 to give the applicants time to think over their options.