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New housing for sanitation staff?

Janet Urquhart

A long-term plan to make over the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District’s complex along the Roaring Fork River with improvements that include 21 residences is like stuffing “15 pounds into a 10-pound sack,” according to a City Council member.

The council, which met Monday, wants to tour the 3.5-acre site off Mill Street before giving the plan further consideration. Members also want to see “story poles” erected to give them a better sense of just how tall the proposed buildings would be.

The sanitation district is seeking approval of a plan to remodel and expand its existing maintenance facility on the property; expand four existing affordable housing units that are rented to its employees; demolish a separate, existing four-unit building; and construct four new, four-unit buildings. The expansion would occur as needed over the next two decades. Eventually, the district would have 21 employee units with 35 bedrooms where nine units and 13 bedrooms exist today.

A 100-foot buffer between the development and the river would be maintained, as would the link to the Rio Grande Trail that crosses the north side of property, near the river. No buildings would be constructed between the trail and the river, but the extent of the development drew sharp criticism from Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

“This is an incredibly sensitive area along the river. I’m really taken aback by this level of development this close to the river,” she said. “It’s huge. I think it should be scaled back significantly, if it’s there. I think people will see it as sticking out like a sore thumb.”

At their highest, the proposed buildings would reach 32 feet, as measured at the midpoint of a sloped roof.

The property, behind a commercial building on Puppy Smith Street, is most readily visible from the Rio Grande Trail and the bike/pedestrian trail link that crosses the parcel between the Rio Grande Trail and Mill Street. The slopes of Aspen Mountain can also be seen from that trail link.

Other council members, along with Richards, voiced concerns about height, as well as giving the plan an approval that would be valid for 20 years, but they weren’t adamantly opposed to seeing something built there.

“I think the project has a lot of potential,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.

“I want to commend what you’re doing,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “I think you’re doing what we give lip service to … providing housing to your employees.”

Richards softened her criticisms in the end, but still deemed the project “too much for the site.” She suggested the city trade some units at its planned Burlingame Ranch housing for protection of more of the sanitation district’s property off Mill Street. Burlingame is conveniently close to the district’s sewage treatment plant, located on the river below the Aspen Business Center, she noted.

The plant was at one time located at the Mill Street site, but it was demolished in the early 1980s.

The council continued action on the district’s proposal to its Jan. 10 meeting.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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