Obermeyer goes back to drawing board
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A scaled-back plan for Obermeyer Place continued to draw criticism for the height of the buildings Wednesday and left the project’s developers wondering if the project would ultimately be worth doing.
While the latest iteration of plans to redevelop a pocket of Aspen’s service/industrial zone drew praise from some members of the community task force working on the project, others complained that the designs were losing their creativity.
And a handful of vocal neighbors continued to raise objections about buildings that would exceed the 35-foot height limit established by the existing zoning. Several also accused the city of engaging in a public-private partnership as a way to circumvent its own zoning regulations.
By the end of yesterday’s three-hour session, one participating property owner said he would pull out of the planning if a formal proposal wasn’t ready by November, a task force member said she’d devoted enough time to the process, and a key player in the project was worried about the project’s future.
“At some point the frustration level of being beat up – I don’t know when we’ve had enough of that,” said Tim Belinski, chief financial officer for Sport Obermeyer.
Belinski predicted the development team would bring back one more redesign to show the COWOP task force that is charged with taking a formal proposal to the City Council. He’s afraid, though, that too much of what’s good in the project will be stripped away to make it palatable to the neighbors.
“I’m disappointed that we’re designing a community project and stripping it of lots of community benefits,” he said after the close of Wednesday’s discussion.
While the designs presented yesterday still retain desirable elements from a community perspective, Belinski said he is worried about “where it goes next.
“Anything less than this may not be worth doing,” he said. “We don’t want it to be so watered down that we lose all the benefits we’ve been talking about. This is a hell of a good project. It needs to happen in some form.”
The task force, made up of government representatives, neighbors and property owners, has been working since early this year on a proposal to redevelop a pocket of buildings along Rio Grande Place and East Bleeker Street. The funky neighborhood contains a mixture of homes and buildings that house the kinds of businesses that have been pushed out of Aspen’s high-priced commercial core, like an auto repair shop, painter, welder and florists.
Three private individuals own property in the area. Sport Obermeyer founder Klaus Obermeyer is the major landowner and initiated the joint redevelopment effort. Several city-owned slivers of land were also to be used, but the city’s property is no longer incorporated into the project, eliminating the need for voter approval for its use.
The latest plan revisions call for two buildings, down from four, both with partial fourth floors. Their height has been reduced from 50 feet to 45 feet with a flat roof. The development has been trimmed from about 210,000 square feet to 170,000 square feet of above-grade space.
Buildings will no longer extend onto a vacated Rio Grande Place. That street will be left alone, and East Bleeker will be improved into a standard two-lane street, explained architect Bob Schiller.
Relocation of the recycling center from Rio Grande Park into the project is no longer in the plans. Also gone is a promenade along the park and a small restaurant/plaza area adjacent to the park.
Parking for 236 vehicles is proposed, including 186 underground spaces. About 119 would be built for the city, if it wants to pay for the cost of their construction.
The two proposed buildings will replace all of the existing affordable commercial space on their ground floors and contain a mix of deed-restricted and free-market housing on the three upper floors.
“I think considerable strides have been made here,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.
But homeowners in Oklahoma Flats, the residential enclave on the far side of the Roaring Fork River from the project, predicted the buildings would adversely impact views – not just from their neighborhood, but from the park and other public areas.
“We’re not just talking about the view planes from Oklahoma Flats. These are your view planes, as citizens,” said Debra Moore.
Homeowner Dick Volk said he was “shocked” that preserving the mountain views wasn’t listed as a task force goal from the start.
Denise Reich blasted the city representatives for ignoring their own zoning regulations with the COWOP process.
“I think people are reading the COWOP as a way for the city to do anything it wants,” Klanderud said. In reality, she noted, any developer can propose a planned unit development that diverts from underlying zoning regulations. “It’s not a way for the city to break its own rules.
“There have been tremendous modifications here, and yet people continue to talk as if nothing has changed,” Klanderud said. “I don’t know what to do about that.”
“It seems to me that we have sacrificed a lot of community good for the views of a few,” said Ruth Kruger, a member of the task force and city Planning and Zoning Commission.
“I’m hugely disappointed with where we’ve ended up,” said task force member Georgia Hanson. “I hope we don’t just end up with this huge, mediocre, boring situation.”
Oklahoma Flats resident Brian Weiner urged the task force to lose the buildings’ fourth floors, which contain about 28,000 square feet of free-market housing in the current designs.
Since the free-market housing is needed to subsidize the service/industrial/commercial space, that would mean eliminating most of the 31,000 square feet of RO housing in the plan, architect Schiller said. The RO units are deed restricted to local workers, but are to be sold for the cost of their construction.
Nonetheless, Belinski said designers will look again at building heights and the housing mix.
“At some point, we [the City Council] are going to have to bite the bullet and say we think this is a good project,” Klanderud said after the meeting.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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