Kronberg fails to win over Aspen City Council in city offices opposition

A new rendering of the proposed city offices, as a shown from the Rio Grande Place entrance, won over members of Aspen City Council at their Monday meeting.

The Aspen City Council on Monday blessed a new subdivision for civic offices, despite a government critic’s attempt to derail the project by calling on elected officials to take it to a public vote.

Mayor Steve Skadron gave Snowmass Canyon resident Toni Kronberg, who is often at odds with the City Council over its decisions, three minutes to make her case against the new office space eyed for the Rio Grande Building and Galena Plaza.

Kronberg instead used nearly half an hour to accuse City Council of violating the 2006 Civic Master Plan if it approved the development of a city office building near the Pitkin County Library. That’s because, she argued, the plan does not allow for civic offices where they are proposed; instead, the space is designated for affordable housing or neighborhood-commercial development.

She also contended the city was encroaching open space with the development.

“I highly encourage you to put it to a vote and let the community decide,” said Kronberg, who gave a detailed presentation that was supported by documents, maps and other literature. “It’s not in compliance.”

Kronberg’s plea, however, failed to persuade the council to reverse its course.

By a 4-0 vote, the council took the recommendation of the Community Development Department — some of whose members said Kronberg cherry-picked from the Civic Master Plan and overlooked parts that make the development allowable — and approved Ordinance 4 at the roughly 11 p.m. conclusion of the public hearing.

“As a staff we feel very confident that it meets the requirements,” said Jessica Garrow, director of Community Development. She was backed by City Attorney Jim True.

Skadron, while thanking Kronberg for the time she spent on her challenge, also scolded her for undermining the work the city has put into the effort.

“That doesn’t mean we are insensitive to the issue, or we don’t care, or we haven’t been listening,” the mayor said. “We do care, and it’s quite obvious by the amount of time and money we’ve put into this and the amount of time we’ve given you to make a case.

“We have listened, and this building will be one we’re proud of, and it will have respect for its surroundings and will be exemplary for all other developments that come to this town.”

Kronberg hinted that she could try to take the issue to the public by launching a citizen referendum.

“Toni, do what you gotta do,” Skadron said. “But you should reflect on your actions.”

The mayor also rattled off a litany of issues that Kronberg has taken to voters, with successful results, but said they have done more harm than good. Among those votes, he cited Kronberg’s effort behind the defeat of the Aspen Art Museum proposal to build a structure behind the Pitkin County Courthouse. That failed at the polls in May 2009, with the structure ultimately being erected in the downtown core and attracting a chorus of critics who claim it is out of step with its surroundings.

The council’s vote on the city offices, meanwhile, came after it directed the project planners and architects on March 6 and 7 to refine the plans and make the building more welcoming to the public.

The result was a project that no longer has the “institutional” look the council feared it had.

“I find these changes very attractive,” said Councilman Art Daily, calling it a “dramatic change” from the previous version.

The city is building 28,400 square feet of new space for civic offices on Rio Grande Place near the Pitkin County Library. The city also will use another 6,400 square feet of existing space on Rio Grande Place for future offices.

The estimated cost of the project ranges from $35.9 million to $38.6 million, $21 million of which would be paid with city cash and the rest through financing. That also includes a gutting and remodel of the existing City Hall at the corner of East Hopkins Avenue and Galena Street.