Making ‘cents’ of the Civic Master Plan
November 23, 2006
A master plan for downtown Aspen has passed its first hurdle and is now on its way to the Aspen City Council.But even if the council approves the proposed Civic Master Plan, the city won’t necessarily see new buildings near Rio Grande Park. In 1973, the city purchased the bulk of the park and surrounding areas with revenue from the “7th Penny” tax. According to city planner Ben Gagnon, because that tax is earmarked for transportation, any alternate use for the land must be approved by voters.In 1993, the council approved the Rio Grande Master Plan, which assumed the parcel would serve as the terminus of a rail line. That idea has effectively been abandoned, but Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jasmine Tygre doesn’t think the city should automatically walk away from using the area to meet transportation needs somehow.”We were trying to act with foresight that we wanted to save land” for transportation needs, she said at a planning and zoning meeting Tuesday. “Until you get permission from the voters to change the use of that 7th Penny tax, this is premature.”Aspen has yet to resolve the problem of the Entrance to Aspen, a controversial transportation issue that has dogged the city for decades. This month, the issue resurfaced as officials reaffirmed an Environmental Impact Statement that supports a solution determined in 1998. With that announcement, the issue is poised to take center stage once again.Tygre rejected the plan Tuesday, but the other five commissioners approved it with conditions.The Civic Master Plan outlines potential uses for a number of downtown locations, both within and outside of the 7th Penny boundary. The more hotly debated areas, however, lie primarily within that boundary, including the former Youth Center, Galena Plaza and the city-owned parking lots next to the Visitors Center and Rio Grande parking garage.Gagnon said at an earlier meeting if the City Council adopts the Civic Master Plan, it will replace the Rio Grande Master Plan, which currently serves as a guiding document for the area (although the Civic Master Plan covers a broader area, extending to the base of Aspen Mountain). The Rio Grande Master Plan states, “because the site was purchases with 7th Penny Transportation funds, the basis of future development goals is transportation oriented.” It does, however, discuss other appropriate uses for the area, primarily performing arts uses or “essential community services.”The 1993 plan also notes, “Depending upon how the land was originally purchased, future permanent development may require voter approval.” Near the river, a smaller swath of land governed by the Rio Grande Master Plan was purchased with “6th Penny” open space funds.The Rio Grande Master Plan identifies several goals for the playing fields and the areas south of that, directing the city to “satisfy transportation related needs first when considering the use of” the site, “retain and optimize park/recreational uses in this area and replace the active park and playfield only with a regional rail facility,” and “preserve view planes to the river and Independence Pass with low-profile development.”The Civic Master Plan does not anticipate altering the playing fields, but it does list various types of development as a potential uses for the former Youth Center and Galena Plaza, which sits atop the parking garage. Like Tygre, several members of the public at Tuesday’s meeting, who were concerned about the new plan, feared it will pave the way for the city to build large structures that block views.Gagnon stressed Tuesday the plan would not entitle the city to build on those locations. It would merely be a guiding document, much like the 2000 Aspen Area Community Plan.Tygre disagreed, calling it “an enabling document as it is written,” and she remained concerned about the 7th Penny issue.The Civic Master Plan’s next stop is the council, which will have the final say on whether to adopt it as a new guide for downtown Aspen.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.