New APD building meets resistance, still passes

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
The Aspen Police Department is proposing to move out of the Pitkin County Courthouse and erect a new headquarters building on East Main Street.
Charles Cunniffe Architects |

The Aspen City Council on Monday unanimously approved the development of a new police station and affordable-housing complex on East Main Street but still plans to tweak some of the project’s finer points at a future meeting.

A near three-hour public hearing on the project included resistance from some neighbors of the adjacent Obermeyer Place; their chief concern being that law enforcement would use a public alleyway during certain instances. The alleyway separates Obermeyer from the Concept 600 building on Main Street.

Obermeyer resident Steve Seyffert said he spoke for most inhabitants of the mixed-use building in their objection to the alleyway being used for law enforcement purposes.

“I don’t think the neighbors have been treated fairly to help propose good solutions for this project,” he told the council, adding the Police Department has been “insistent” that it can use the alley during emergency situations. The alleyway would be one of two access points for the new department. The other one would be from Rio Grande Place.

Those on the Police Department’s planning and design team as well as Police Chief Richard Pryor said two egresses are vital to public safety.

“It’s unacceptable to have one access and egress,” Pryor said, adding that “it cannot happen. It’s a fundamental security need we would be seriously remiss in bypassing.”

Architect Charles Cunniffe also argued that in the rare event that someone blocked access to the Police Department to achieve criminal motives, law enforcement would be hamstrung.

“This is a critical emergency egress,” he said. “I just think it would be terrible to allow this alley to be privatized. … Public safety is paramount.”

A representative for the Concept 600 building, which fronts Main Street, also supported the project.

The council agreed but also said the alleyway should be a secondary egress and used only when necessary. They will take that issue and others up at a future work session before the project’s design goes for final approval in front of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The Aspen Police Department currently uses a portion of the Pitkin County Courthouse as well as offices at Obermeyer Place for its staff and services.

Moving its base down the street will allow it to have an 18,515-square-foot building to itself, along with a free-standing, eight-unit housing structure for municipal employees.

That accounts for 60 percent of the required affordable-housing mitigation, something Councilman Bert Myrin said he would like to see expanded.

The council will take up the affordable-housing component and its height, the alleyway use and certain design elements up at work session that has yet to be scheduled.

“I think this is built conservatively and it accomplished a number of community goals,” Mayor Steve Skadron said.

Three historic buildings are on the site located at 540 E. Main St. The council previously agreed to move the house and shed, which date back to 1885, and the circa-1938 barn to the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum property, which is managed by the Aspen Historical Society. The relocated buildings would function as house museums on the open space, located just west of the Marolt pedestrian bridge off Seventh Street.