Jewish center wins go-ahead

Abigail Eagye

Showing unusual solidarity at Monday night’s Aspen City Council meeting, all facets of the community rallied behind a proposal to build a Jewish Community Center.The Historic Preservation Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission, city staff, council members and neighbors all supported plans put forth by the Jewish Resource Center Chabad of Aspen.The city council even lifted several conditions in the proposal, with no request from the applicants to do so. The plan before the council restricted the number of social gatherings at the center to 10 per year, and it required that drop-off times at the center’s new preschool be staggered to help control traffic.Both conditions were included to help minimize parking impacts in the neighborhood, since parking at the center will be limited. But the council generally agreed that it makes no such demands of other religious institutions within the city limits, none of which offer onsite housing either.And staggering drop-off times at the school might be more of a logistical problem than the traffic, several council members said.”If you’ve ever had children and tried to get them to day care, you’re not about to meet a staggered schedule,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said.Councilman Torre did have reservations about the limited parking nonetheless, but he said it wasn’t enough to vote against the project.One neighbor was concerned about the design of the city’s bus stop in front of the center, but the council consented to send it to HPC for review.Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie impressed upon the council that the resource center had made a number of concessions during the approval process. The applicants asked for significantly less square footage than zoning allows, and they volunteered to preserve several buildings that are part of the L’Auberge cabins, where the new center will be built.”I don’t know that I’ve ever reviewed a project that didn’t take full advantage of its FAR requirement or more,” said Councilman Jack Johnson.That FAR, or floor area requirement, will be available for the center to build out in the future, but it will have to submit to further review for any additions.The council agreed with city staff’s characterization of the center as an essential public facility. In particular, council members gave their enthusiastic support to the nondenominational preschool in light of the city’s ongoing need for child care facilities, and they saw the value in creating a permanent home for Aspen’s Jewish community.Councilman Jack Johnson appreciated not only the function of the building but also its location.”I think this is going to activate what is sometimes a very dead neighborhood,” he said.Rabbi Mendel Mintz was thrilled with the council’s decision.”The council not only was supportive, but to the point where they took out something that was restrictive,” he said. “We’re excited and appreciative of what the council has done.”The new center will house Aspen’s first synagogue, as well as a kosher kitchen that will make it easier for the Jewish community to host traditional religious events, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs.If all goes as planned, the resource center hopes to break ground in mid-May.Designation as an essential public facility means the center may be exempt from the city’s current building moratorium, although, if the council meets its new deadline of Feb. 28, no exemption will be necessary.”Our goal is ultimately to serve the community,” Mintz said. “Obviously, the sooner the better.”Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is