Government office planning moves forward

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN City of Aspen and Pitkin County officials took the first tentative step to keep government offices in downtown Aspen Tuesday.The city and county are cooperating on a Galena Block Master Plan, and agreed Tuesday to a two-day “charette,” or design meeting, to determine how best to use land in the downtown core – surrounding the courthouse – for government use.”This is a process with a lot of variables,” said city planner Ben Gagnon. And while solidifying an action plan will take a long time – and will require a public process and numerous approvals – Gagnon said, “We would like to get some forward momentum.”Officials expressed doubts, but in the end supported the meeting.Representatives from the city of Aspen, Pitkin County commissioners, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA), the Pitkin County Library, and the Aspen Art Museum will meet to discuss design scenarios later this month.Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper was concerned that the two-day charette was overkill and overlapped with work already done by earlier committees.Commissioner Jack Hatfield said the master plan for the area is already approved and there’s been a facility study.”What are we going to gain out of revisiting?” Hatfield asked.”I’m not opposed to planning,” said Jack Johnson, but the city councilman also questioned the rationale of revisiting the work they’d done in the master plan.Gagnon said the master plan is “fairly vague” and the design meeting would provide more specifics.”The density we’re promoting in this area is something of concern to me,” said Aspen City Councilman Torre.”I’m wondering why the museum is in this as a player,” Hatfield said. “There are many nonprofits that are going to be involved in this civic space.”But Gagnon said the master plan includes a range of possible users, and that inclusion in the design meeting does not ensure space in the planned facility.Commissioner Rachel Richards voiced concerns over space, asking if plans could include both the museum and the historic Zupancis buildings.”If the historic buildings are going to stay, there is not going to be space for this to happen,” she warned.Officials agreed to a tentative meeting March 21 and 22, but city and county officials must meet separately to vote.Got wood?The Rio Grande conference room, in the old youth center at the end of Galena Street, might not survive the next construction phase, but city and county officials agreed Tuesday to renovate the space in the interim.Junee Kirk, a member of Aspen Community Social Dance, spearheaded a campaign to add a wood floor to the room and hang sound baffles to improve acoustics.Kirk came to Tuesday’s meeting backed by friends and supporters prepared for a fight, but officials at the joint meeting were quick to grant them what they wanted.”It’s a wonderful room … it’s unique,” said Dennis Tuma, a member of the Roaring Fork Friends of Tibet, who use the rooms for large gatherings.”We could throw money at it, make it better,” he said.And the joint board was quick to agree.While the county has priority on booking the space, the room is also used for press conferences, as a dance space, a sometime homeless shelter, a makeshift detox during large events and as a home to 12-step groups.”There is not civic performance space in town for the smaller groups,” said Kent Reed of the Hudson Reed Ensemble, who congratulated the board’s decision.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is