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Aspen Institute gets OK to build newest building on West End campus

Aspen City Council on Tuesday approved the newest building to be added to the Aspen Institute, which will pay homage to the renowned artist and architect who designed the campus beginning seven decades ago.

Several people spoke in support of the Center for Herbert Bayer Studies, describing it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity and a move that will preserve the birthplace of modern Aspen.

Neighbors, while in support of the Institute campus and Bayer’s work, unsuccessfully asked for an archway leading to the new building to be removed, as well as a planned sidewalk in front of the new building, in order to keep the rural feel of the West End neighborhood.

Three of five council members, Rachel Richards, Skippy Mesirow and Mayor Torre, voted yes on the ordinance approving the project.

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They acknowledged neighbors’ concerns, agreeing with some arguments and disagreeing with others.

“I think this is a gift to the community, as so many people have said,” Richards said, adding she doesn’t like sidewalks in all places around town but they are a requirement of the city. “Sometimes compromise happens at the table.”

Councilman Ward Hauenstein was absent from the meeting and Councilwoman Ann Mullins recused herself because she works at the Institute conducting tours.

The 7,536-square-foot Bayer building is envisioned to be a center to display, collect, archive, preserve and educate on Bayer’s works and influence.

“We have a responsibility to preserve and celebrate Bayer’s work,” Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield told council in his opening remarks. “We need to be good stewards of the campus.”

That’s why the Institute plans to renovate and historically designate the nearby Boettcher Seminar Building, which was built by Bayer and his brother-in-law, Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect Fritz Benedict.

It opened in 1975 and hasn’t had any work done to it since then, Porterfield noted.

Bayer, a Bauhaus movement master, was the planner of the Institute campus and designer of most of the buildings and art, according to Amy Simon, the city’s historic preservation officer.

Responding to feedback from council during the first reading of the development regarding affordable housing, the Institute will buy housing credits instead of paying a cash-in-lieu fee, which is a lower amount than any other form of mitigation.

And instead of providing housing for 65% of the employees generated by the new building, which is what the city requires, the Institute will provide 100%.

That means the Institute will provide housing for two full-time employees instead of the previously proposed 1.5 workers.

An audit will be conducted two years and five years after the center opens to determine how many employees the facility necessitates.

“I appreciate the upping of the ante” on affordable housing, Richards said. “I’m hoping other community members follow that lead.”

The Institute has contracted with local developer Peter Fornell to purchase housing credits, which were generated by a previous development.

Fornell created the housing credit program in 2008. It allows a developer to build affordable housing and get a credit for each unit that comes online. That credit can then be sold to another developer who uses it to fulfill employee mitigation requirements on a separate project.

Richards added that the Institute would probably be better off in the future if it housed employees onsite, noting how difficult it is to find workers due to the housing shortage in the valley.

The Institute has been exempt from creating employee housing since 1991 when City Council approved the campus as a “specially planned area.”

Lisa Markalunas, who has lived across from the campus at the intersection of Gillespie Street and the Music Associates of Aspen’s parking lot for over 50 years, expressed concern about more events occurring in a neighborhood that is already overrun by the music school and Institute activities.

“I worry about event creep,” she told council. “The event usage of the buildings is very important.”

Institute representatives said there will not be any outside events, like weddings, held at the Boettcher and Bayer buildings. Only Aspen Institute-sponsored gatherings will occur, they said.

It’s estimated in the traffic management plan that the new Bayer center will generate 13 additional cars a day.

The Institute is planning to mitigate for 19 additional cars a day by giving a one-time $10,000 gift to We-Cycle, plus an additional sponsorship.

The Institute also will pay to have the bus lane paved in the music festival’s parking lot to reduce dust in the neighborhood.

No onsite parking is allowed in front of the Boettcher and Bayer buildings, but the Institute has inked an agreement with the MAA to use 10 spaces in the adjacent parking lot during the summer season and 25 spaces when the music school is out of session.

John Bennett, a former Aspen mayor, said the new development is appropriate because of its significance in Aspen’s history.

“It is growth, there is no way around that,” he said. “But this feels like the right kind of growth.”

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which conceptually approved the project, has final review on limited aspects of the plan scheduled for March.

Upon approval, the site will be prepped for construction this spring, with building occurring from the fall to spring of 2021.

The Institute will receive an expedited building permit review process and waivers on some fees because it is designated by the city as an “essential public facility.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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