La Co redevelopment plan wins nod

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado
Rendering courtesy of Charles Cunniffe

ASPEN The demolition of the La Cocina building will make way for a much larger commercial development, which will include a new restaurant and bar, a nightclub and free-market condos.The City Council on Monday gave Syzygy operator Walt Harris and his partners the go-ahead to develop a three-story building on Hopkins Avenue that will house a casual restaurant and bar on the street level with 2,512 square feet of space.

There will be three affordable housing units and one free-market condo. The third floor will be one large free-market residence. Harris said he would like to use the basement level for a nightclub, although that has not yet been approved and would require more affordable housing to be built.”We want to be able to do something very fun and vibrant,” Harris said. “The main thing was to do something that fits in with the neighborhood … bring back the days of the Ute [City Bank] and Smuggler [Land Office.]”Harris’ vision is to keep it casual, with TVs in the bar, and have bar and patio menus as well as al fresco dining in the summer.”We want a place you can come several times a week,” he said.

Although the new building might dwarf Lu Lu Wilson in the historic property next door, council members said it fits in with the streetscape on Hopkins Avenue between Mill and Monarch streets, known as “Restaurant Row.” The area is in the commercial core historic district. The old La Cocina building was taken off the historic list because of a loss of integrity. Now something more modern will replace it.”If you look at the whole block, I would say it doesn’t fit in any worse,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson. “Is it perfect? No. Is it better than the other projects we are looking at? Yes.”Standing at 35 feet tall, the new building will impede the Hotel Jerome’s viewplane by a little more than 3 feet. The proposal originally called for a taller building, but at the Historic Preservation Commission’s request, Harris and his partners dropped it by several feet.Charles Cunniffe, the architect on the project, said the building is designed to interact with the structures around it.

The development proposal has been in the review process since early 2006. It has gone through rigorous scrutiny by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the HPC, which both approved the land-use application. The City Council on Monday only had the purview of approving the project’s subdivision.The proposal was submitted when the city government relaxed the regulations on development to promote infill in the downtown core in an effort to revitalize the economy. Council members said the project is beneficial because it adds vitality to the area, is a local-serving business and adds affordable housing downtown – all goals of the Aspen Area Community Plan.”It had a lot of merit,” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “It was not a hard decision.”