Let the library proceed with plans
July 6, 2012
We find it more than a little strange that the City Council discussions on the Pitkin County Library expansion have dragged on as long as they have.
A process that was expected to lead to a slam-dunk decision to approve the county’s land-use application for a $10 million, two-story addition to the current facility has gotten bogged down over questions about the size of a roof-like canopy that would cover the facility, the potential for cost overruns and the relationship between the library’s new amenities and the city’s plans for a reconfigured Galena Plaza.
We aren’t saying that the council doesn’t have the right to query library director Kathy Chandler and the county’s planning team in order to glean more information about the project. After all, the council is the review body for land-use applications and also the owner of the property upon which the expansion is proposed.
But the project has been in the works for more than a year; county and city planners have been working in concert to ensure that the expansion will be in harmony with the plaza reconfiguration and repairs to the Rio Grande parking garage beneath the plaza. Also, the library conducted open houses to find out what local residents and library users wanted from a possible expansion.
Thus, after all of this time and outreach, it appears odd that council members are saying they don’t like various aspects of the plan, particularly the canopy and its 16-foot “intrusion” onto the plaza from the east side of the expanded building. One might say that council members are acting like Monday-morning quarterbacks or Little League parents, criticizing a game plan that appears to have the potential for success. Perhaps it would have made more sense and saved everyone a lot of time and money to have involved themselves in the discussion at an earlier stage.
Suddenly, everyone is concerned about the canopy’s shadow effect on the plaza. While many residents, civic leaders and youths have voiced support for the library’s current plans, a few rabble-rousers have complained that the canopy will darken the underused plaza.
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As one supporter recently noted, no one’s going to stumble over the hordes of Aspen residents basking in the plaza’s abundant sunshine. More often than not, the plaza sits empty, save for the occasional Aspen worker bee with a sack lunch or the homeless guy looking for a place to rest after getting kicked out of some other locale.
The library’s design attempts to change that scenario, giving users the option of enjoying the sunshine or the shade in an outdoor setting.
Initially, some council members suggested that the land-use decision would go smoothly because voters would have the ultimate say on the matter. The county is expected to place an item on the Nov. 6 ballot that would raise property taxes to provide financing for about half of the project’s construction costs as well as operating expenses for the expanded areas.
Now, some council members are seeking something that might be impossible: a binding vote on the issue. In other words, if Aspen voters reject the financing mechanism, then the library wouldn’t be allowed to pursue the project through other means. But some council members appear to be opposed to some residents’ call for a binding vote with regard to a project of its own. (We’re referring to the Castle Creek Energy Center, or hydroelectric plant.)
At least one council member appears concerned about potential cost overruns. We’d like to remind him that the city has had several of its own. (Again, the Castle Creek Energy Center project comes to mind.)
Put simply, our city’s elected officials appear to be saying, “Do what we ask of you but not as we do.” This is not the proper route of a council that usually tries to lead by example.
After a few meetings on the matter, the library discussion has been continued to an unspecified date. It was scheduled for the council’s upcoming meeting Monday, but now it’s looking as though a special meeting will be called on the matter.
We suggest that the City Council allow county and library officials to proceed with their designs and plans to ask voters for money to expand the library. All of this hemming and hawing about shade and other concerns is not in the best interest of a majority of Aspen’s residents. There are more important battles to fight.