Making sense of ‘the plan’
“The average Russkie, son, don’t take a dump without a plan.” Or so goes Jack Ryan’s internal monologue in the film “The Hunt for Red October.”Planning ahead is generally considered a good strategy. No general goes into battle without a plan. An offensive line huddles up before hiking the ball. Even the Boy Scouts caution us to “be prepared.”So it’s confusing to some why planning for the city’s future could be distressing.But as a new Civic Master Plan makes its way up the city’s ranks, several community members fear what will happen to some spaces the plan discusses. What’s unclear to some city staff members and the group that developed the plan is why this “guiding” document poses such problems.
Many locations mentioned within the Civic Master Plan have seen this type of guidance before (see sidebar).According to the 1993 Rio Grande Master Plan, City Council approved a concept for the “Roaring Fork Railroad Proposal” in 1986, outlining amenities for a rail terminus in the Rio Grande Park area. A 1988 revision mentions a parking facility, a library and an “area for ‘arts usage.'” The library and parking garage earned final Specially Planned Area (SPA) approval in 1989, followed in 1990 by SPA approval for the Youth Center. In 1991, P&Z recommended approval of an SPA for an Art Park/Theatre and Trolley Car Barn; City Council denied the SPA.Of course those discussions were crafted around the assumption a train would one day travel up the old Rio Grande corridor into the Rio Grande Park area. That idea has since been abandoned, which is part of the reason for crafting a new plan for the area, said Mayor Helen Klanderud, who was part of the Civic Master Plan’s advisory group. As the community’s needs change, so must the plans.”Master plans aren’t set in stone to last in perpetuity and never change,” she said.And they are also only guides, not mandates, noted City Clerk Kathryn Koch.”My diet plan is a guiding document. I don’t have to follow it,” she said.According to City Attorney John Worcester, Aspen doesn’t need the Civic Master Plan to use its property for any of the outlined ideas – it can legally so without the plan. Instead, he likens the plan to having a vision for an unfinished basement; the idea is to identify needs and available spaces and come up with priorities.But P&Z Commissioner Jasmine Tygre wonders if it will be viewed as an entitlement document, rather than a guiding document. At several meetings, she expressed fear that the end result will be massive development.However, the public has potential recourses if it disapproves of any specific development, according to Worcester. Building a performing-arts center above and behind the garage, for instance, would require a zoning change. If the city approved that and the public didn’t like it, someone could circulate a petition to put the issue to voters. Recent referendums have killed plans for a new recycle center near the skate park and to move the visitors center to the corner of Galena and Main streets.
Tygre also raised questions about the funding that helped purchase the area in and around Rio Grande Park. The Rio Grande Master Plan includes maps that outline what it terms the “7th Penny” boundary. Tygre said voters approved that tax for transportation.
Quoting from the Rio Grande Master Plan, The Aspen Times similarly reported that “the site was purchased with 7th Penny Transportation funds” and that “future permanent development may require voter approval.”Worcester said it’s more complicated than that, however.The 1972 ordinance that approved the 7th Penny tax makes no mention of transportation. Rather, it states that the tax is for “the payment of food tax refunds, for capital improvements and capital expenditures, for land acquisition, [and] for general operating purposes.”So where did the idea this money is for transportation come from?The same year the tax was approved, City Council pledged to use the 7th Penny money to implement a transportation plan. Worcester said the current City Council isn’t bound by that pledge, but they may choose to honor it.Additionally, the area is a complicated patchwork, and the means of acquiring some portions of it is uncertain. Those origins may restrict their use, but without a specific proposal on the table, extensive research to determine the specifics could be pointless, particularly with regard to transportation if there’s no longer any need for a train in the area, he said.Assistant City Manager Randy Ready said the city’s needs for moving people currently lie along a different corridor: Highway 82. People need to get to Snowmass and the Aspen Business Center, so a train into the parking garage area doesn’t necessarily solve congestion problems.
With transportation uses essentially moot, the Civic Master Plan outlines other potential uses for the same area, based on the city’s current needs. But in naming those needs, some people fear the plan is a done deal, in spite of officials’ insistence it is a guide only.The lengthy proposal in posted online at http://www.aspenpitkin.com, and copies are available in the Community Development Department at City Hall.City Council will take public comment on the plan Dec. 11.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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