Councilman Myrin hot over natural gas at new Aspen police station | AspenTimes.com

Councilman Myrin hot over natural gas at new Aspen police station

Excavation work on the new police department at 540 E. Main St. continued Monday, the same day City Council approved a financing mechanism for the project's construction.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times |

Chain ordinance advances

Aspen City Council took the following actions at its meeting Monday:

• Council members voted 5-0 to advance the proposed ordinance that would regulate chain stores to its March 6 meeting. Next week’s second reading will allow the public to offer their takes on Ordinance 6, which would apply to five Aspen zone districts comprising commercial and lodging zones, as well as the historic district on Main Street. A chain, by the ordinance creators’ definition, is a business with at least 11 locations that also meets criteria concerning standardized merchandise, services, signs, facades and other elements. Councilwoman Ann Mullins suggested expanding the ordinance to cover other zones, such as the service-industrial-commercial district. Councilman Bert Myrin offered that he wants the restrictions also to apply to space in existing buildings that house chain stores. As currently crafted, the ordinance would not apply to chain-occupied space in buildings, meaning that a new chain could replace an old one in the same space. If council does not approve an ordinance by the end of March, Mayor Steve Skadron said the council would create a ballot question that would go to voters during the May elections.

• The council blessed a federal lawsuit settlement with two Aspen boutiques that sued it last year in Denver. Aspen Retail, which operates the Kristals Cosmetics and Adore beauty boutique in the downtown core, claimed the city violated its free speech rights by forbidding its employees to hand out free beauty-product samples to passersby on city-owned sidewalks. The settlement allows the employs to solicit business from within their doorways, but they cannot distribute samples on public property. City attorney Jim True said the settlement agreement serves the Aspen government better than going to trial.

• City Manager Steve Barwick announced that the job duties of parking services director Mitch Ossur are being expanded for him to work as a liaison between the city and downtown businesses. Ossur’s role will focus on explaining city rules to retailers and how to expand them.

“As an organization we’ve been talking about the need for such services for a while,” Barwick said in a prepared statement. “There is so much going on downtown and many opportunities to better communicate with our businesses. Mitch’s background is in retail and customer service, which makes him uniquely qualified to serve our downtown businesses. In addition, parking is such an integral aspect of downtown vitality it makes sense for Osur to take on this responsibility.”

Ossur’s new duties will include:

• Creating consistent dialogue with downtown business owners

• Acting as a liaison between business owners and the city

• Coordinating business opportunities and events downtown such as off-season sidewalk sales, gallery walks, or late night business events

• Collaborating on beautification projects downtown

• Expanding business opportunities in Aspen

• Greeting representatives from every new business that opens in town

• Ensuring a quality experience for visitors and residents who visit downtown Aspen

• Representing the city at Commercial Core and Lodging Commission meetings

• Communicating with businesses about special projects, right-of-way, code and zoning issues, mall leases, and environmental priorities

• Creating a collaborative environment for expanding Aspen’s downtown economy

• Coordinating the activities of multiple City departments in the downtown core

— Rick Carroll

Aspen City Council on Monday approved a financing instrument for the construction of a new police station, though one member could not support it because of how the cop shop would be heated.

Councilman Bert Myrin cast the lone dissenting vote in the board’s 4-1 decision to finance the construction through certificates of participation with a principal amount of $19.5 million for the project budgeted at $22.5 million.

Myrin said he couldn’t back the project because the building would use natural gas, which he said would be at odds with the city’s renewable-energy goals. A number of Aspen voters, Myrin argued, negatively associate natural gas with fracking and controversial pipelines. He also said a natural-gas system would run counter to the city’s power grid that boasts 100 percent renewable energy.

“For us to fund a building that’s piping in natural gas for everyday heating … is unacceptable to me,” he said.

A city work session next week will address Myrin’s concerns and other aspects of the new Police Department building, Mayor Steve Skadron reminded Myrin, calling his view “too narrow of a perspective.” The mayor argued that unlike other government buildings, the new police department will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will have greater demands for its daily operations. Jack Wheeler, the city’s capital assets manager, also noted a building using 100 percent renewable energy would cost “millions of dollars” more than the current rendition. He said he would provide more financial details at next week’s meeting, adding that the project would include solar panels and storm-water mitigation, and the natural-gas system would be “high efficiency.”

Even so, Myrin was not persuaded to change his mind.

“I’m not convinced it’s going to cost millions more to use renewable energy,” he said.

The first-term councilman said his support of financing the building as proposed would be akin to “supporting the fossil-fuel industry.” He also said it is “absurd” that the city can’t scrap the plans for natural gas and replace it with a renewable-energy model.

The city already has broken ground at 540 E. Main St., also known as the Zupancis property, for its future police headquarters. Construction is taking place at the same time as Pitkin County redoes its building and erects a new sheriff’s department building just a block west on Main Street.

Both the police and sheriff’s office currently share space at the Pitkin County Courthouse. The new police station will span 18,515 square feet.

COPs for police station

The city has used certificates of participation before on other projects such as the Isis Theater building renovation.

In the instance of paying for the construction of the new police station, the city would issue the certificates, good for no more than 30 years, to an investor, presumably a bank. The city would make monthly lease payments to the bank over the life of the certificates. Once the certificates are paid off, the building ownership would transfer to the city. The city’s maximum repayment would not top $40.2 million, while the annual lease payments would not exceed $1.3 million, city Finance Director Don Taylor told the council. Taylor said the interest rate would not exceed 5.5 percent, though the city hopes to lock in at closer to 4 percent.

A memo from Taylor to the City Council said he favors the certificates over general obligation bonds partly because “it is important to note that interest rates have been rising. A delay in issuing the proposed COPs may negate any savings when issuing future general obligation bonds for the same principal amount.”

Certificates of participation don’t require a public vote; a general obligation bond would require voter approval.

Skadron also noted that the certificates would give the city greater cost savings and more financial flexibility.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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