Ponds first, (maybe) housing second
Aspen is about to have a great new public place that will increase vitality. There is a multi-objective proposal by the engineering department working with parks department to create an urban wetland.
The new Jenny Adair project, to be located between Puppy Smith Street and the Roaring Fork River, will also be a place for the stormwater falling on our streets to collect and cleanse before flowing to the river.
In the fall and spring migrating waterfowl will use this area. Some will stay, nest and raise their young here. Both locals and guests will visit the site with their children to interact with the ducks and geese and maybe even feed them grain dispensed from a vending machine. The bird watchers and photographers will have a ball.
The local environmental organizations that work with our schools could develop an interpretive program to show what happens to stormwater in a city, and what must be done to it before it can flow to the river. The students, as a science project, may take water samples to monitor the effectiveness of the project.
They can also examine what happens to the various aquatic plants with changing water levels or toxic spills. Aspen could be the leader in the country showing how to turn an urban problem into a community asset.
Too good to be true? Not entirely; there is a minor problem.
For several years the city has been studying the possibility of building some city employee housing on Puppy Smith at the north edge of the wetlands project site. The housing studies are complete, and on Monday the City Council will consider action to ask the voters to approve this housing project at the next election.
This vote is necessary because the land was purchased with open-space money, and therefore cannot be sold or used for any other purpose without voter approval.
The proposed building site for the three employee units is between Puppy Smith and the new retention ponds and will be both a physical and visual barrier between the public and the wetlands. Also, there is an existing trailhead that begins on Puppy Smith at the housing site and runs east of the ponds to the river, giving a view into this new wetland.
Any decision to develop the area along Puppy Smith for housing should be postponed until after the wetland is up and running. Then an informed decision can be made as to whether the strip along the street should be used for parking to accommodate students, locals and guests who want to enjoy the wetlands and use the trail, or whether it should be converted to city employee housing.
The council should not put this transfer of open space on the ballot until all the facts are known. Once the Jenny Adair project is finished and matured, we will know what action will produce the most public benefit. Members of the council must ask themselves: “What will do the most good, for the most people, for the longest time?”
The answer is obvious, as housing can be located somewhere else – the retention ponds cannot.
Let’s wait for all the facts, before we have a referendum that could lead us down the wrong path.
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