Nobody puts the brakes on downtown parking garage | AspenTimes.com

Nobody puts the brakes on downtown parking garage

Janet UrquhartAspen Times Staff Writer

The would-be developer of a valet-operated, downtown parking garage said he “absolutely” intends to pursue the project after presenting a “sketch plan” to city officials on Monday.The Aspen City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission met jointly for a rare sketch plan review of the project. The city is almost never asked to take a look at an idea before a formal, conceptual application is submitted to kick off the review process before various boards and commissions. Representatives of Park Place, however, wanted a sense of the city’s likely reaction to their proposal before going forward.Although last night’s reception offers no guarantees that the project will ever win approval, most council and P&Z members appeared open to seeing the idea come forward as a conceptual application.Most neighbors who spoke out at last night’s hearing, though, made it clear the garage will face some stiff public opposition when it comes forward for formal review.Park Place is a proposed six-story parking garage, including three below grade and three above, slated for a 6,000-square-foot parcel on East Hyman Avenue next to the Benedict Commons affordable housing complex. An A-frame building exists on the site now.The garage would provide spaces for roughly 95 to 100 cars. The spaces would be sold individually; buyers could put them into a rental pool so they’re available for public use when they’re not occupied by their owner’s vehicles, said real estate broker Peter Fornell, representing the investor pursuing the development. Four deed-restricted studio apartments and an office for the garage are also proposed in the building.It was Fornell who indicated the project would move forward after last night’s meeting.”Is the concept we’re proposing here tonight something you think could be a benefit to the community?” asked planning consultant Alan Richman. “Are there problems with it that would make it unlikely we would ever get formal approval from this group?”Specifically, Richman asked council and P&Z members if the project could proceed as a planned-use development, or PUD, which allows more flexibility in its site plan and design, but also subjects it to greater public scrutiny. Developers also wanted to know if they could apply past years’ unused growth allotments to the project and if the parking garage could receive special consideration when it comes to determining how much employee housing will be required of the project. A garage operation won’t result in as many employees as the city would typically expect a project of its floor area to generate, Richman explained.Most city officials were open to all three considerations, but Councilman Terry Paulson didn’t give the developers any encouragement to proceed.”I’m really hesitant to allow this thing to go forward,” he said. “Do we need a parking garage in that neighborhood?”Councilman Tim Semrau warned developers they’d have to convince him that a parking garage will add the kind of vitality and mixed uses that the city hopes to foster with redevelopment.”Boy, it is highly questionable, whether this meets our goals,” he said. “At first blush, it’s hard to imagine.””I have a hard time with a parking garage there, too,” agreed Councilman Tom McCabe. “But I think it should be given a shot at the process.”Several neighbors, however, voiced concerns about noise, headlights, pollution, traffic and a line of cars on their block if the garage is built, though Richman said vehicles would be immediately parked on the ground floor and then moved up or down.”I assume people would be coming at all times of the day and night,” said Anne Foster, who lives across the street from the site. “I question what will happen to our neighborhood.””Our concern is very simple. It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said attorney Herb Klein, representing a neighboring condo association. “From a public point of view, is this the city’s vision for this neighborhood?”Maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t, but I don’t think we want to be the guinea pigs.”[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]