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Proposal for skylights slows RH project on Galena/Cooper

The proposal calls for five rooftop skylights; the main one would be operable and the four others fixed

A view from how the inside of RH Gallery on Galena will look with skylights.
Courtesy rendering

The chief operating officer of RH recently said the retailer’s presence will invigorate downtown Aspen by day and wake it up at night, but they’ll need some help from the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission.

Partners M Development and RH, the home-furnishings company formerly known as Restoration Hardware, are seeking the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission’s permission to alter the design of the corner downtown project at Cooper Avenue and Galena Street to include rooftop skylights, among other changes.

“We’re obviously anxious to get going, we want to get going, and obviously we need to make a good decision about these changes with you, but as soon as we can,” said Chris Bendon of the Aspen firm BendonAdams, which is consulting RH and M Development on the project planning and design. Aspen developer Mark Hunt owns M Development.



Bendon made his remarks at a Sept. 14 meeting with the HPC, which will revisit the proposed changes at a meeting scheduled Oct. 12. At the former meeting and after listening to reservations expressed from the HPC and city Planning Director Amy Simon, Bendon said the team would regroup to address their concerns.

On Monday, Bendon said changes will be submitted with the city this week.




“HPC provided guidance at our last meeting, and we have refined the design in response to their input,” he said in an email. “We are submitting those changes on Wednesday. No changes to the massing are proposed. It’s still one-story tall at the street level.”

The main concern regards the project team’s proposed rooftop skylights, which Simon said are inconsistent with the city code’s guidelines.

“To add skylights on the roof is going to create illumination that is potentially out of character with downtown,” Simon said at the meeting.

The proposal calls for five rooftop skylights; the main one would be operable and the four others fixed. The main, larger skylight would exceed the building’s height limits of 28 feet by going up to 29 feet.

“As such, we respectfully request a height exemption for this skylight to be
one foot over the 28 feet height limit,” Bendon wrote in a letter dated July 1 to the HPC and Simon. “The rest of the skylights meet the height limit of 28
feet.”

Bendon’s letter said the skylights would “add visual interest and sophistication to this prominent corner building. Five skylights are proposed to enhance the interior space through natural light and to add interest to the upper floor of the new building.”

Other than HPC member Jeffrey Halfterty, the four other HPC members
attending this month’s meeting were against rooftop skylights.

“I am totally opposed to these skyline as it is designed,” said HPC member
Roger Moyer. “If there were any skylights, it should be flat and totally not
visible from the street.”

Slides of the project’s revisions as proposed showed that the skylights were
barely visible from the ground, though Aspen lawyer Bart Johnson, representing neighboring property ownership opposed to the skylights, said renderings often don’t square with reality. There are also concerns about the skylights’ potential effect on the night skies.

Jimmy Marcus, who is M Development’s manager for the project, said skylights will look better than mechanical fixtures and equipment usually seen on rooftops.

“This is one of the primary corners of this commercial core,” he said.
“We want this activated as a gathering place for the community, and I think
that’s something that should be celebrated. We see the skylight as a huge amenity to our town, compared to what we usually see on our commercial buildings.”

The request comes nearly six years after HPC granted approval for a final major development at 422-434 E. Cooper Ave. in November 2016. That approval came before RH got involved in the project, which was announced in January 2021. Then, RH announced it was injecting up to $105 million in a partnership with Hunt’s M Development firm to develop an RH Aspen “ecosystem,” including RH Gallery on Galena, the same location where the rooftop skylights are being proposed.

RH Gallery on Galena “will offer two floors of the RH Interiors, Contemporary, Modern, and RH Ski House collections, plus Interior Design, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture services. Additionally, the Gallery will include a transparent glass rooftop restaurant with views of Aspen Mountain, a Wine & Barista Bar, plus two private dining rooms with fireplaces and retractable roofs,” the company said at the time.

The Bidwell site will serve as RH’s main storefront, with a gallery and restaurant.

RH Chief Executive Officer Gary Friedman, who attended the virtual HPC meeting earlier this month, said the company is taking the unusual step to have the main storefront below the ground level, and the gallery and restaurant above it. He said it will be a place where a lifty or company CEO can get donuts and coffee in the morning, lunch during the daytime and dinner at night. The restaurant would not be open past 10:30 p.m., and it would serve only beer and wine.

“Our restaurant’s last seating will be at 9 p.m.,” Friedman said. “We don’t to have a bar with hard liquor, only beer and wine, so we don’t want drunk people in our stores interacting with customers. … I wouldn’t worry about late nights. We’ll have everybody out by 10:30.”

The new building will change the feel of a downtown populated by luxury retailers, which aren’t exactly gathering places, Friedman told the HPC.

“You don’t have the energy of people,” he said of downtown Aspen. “You don’t look into a luxury retail store and see many customers. Also missing in Aspen is that hospitality has been priced off the ground floor. If you look for places of hospitality, food, wine, etcetera, they are now either in the basement or just on the rooftop. What happens to this town at night, again from my point of view, is I think the town feels empty and it feels dead. You walk through this beautiful little town and you see dark storefronts everywhere and you don’t see any kind of energy or interaction at the street level. I think that problem frames an opportunity for our business … about creating a sense of space that feels hospitable.”

Friedman said downtown Aspen has a “great history, important heritage and incredible charm and community. You can’t miss any of those things when you’re there. Of those pieces of the town, I think there’s one thing eroding, at least from my point of view and my visits there trying to look at town through a critical eye. What’s eroding the town is a sense of community ….  I think the town over the years is attracting more and more luxury stores. They drive a lot of revenues, create a lot of taxes. The thing that’s not so great about luxury stores: They’re not full of people. Luxury stores have a high transaction value but not a lot of transactions.”

RH Gallery on Galena will bookend the 400 block of East Cooper, where the Red Onion building is being modernized for a new restaurant.

“The project did slow down to accommodate design changes and this review with HPC, which has been underway since late Winter,” Bendon said in the email. “The permit is active and construction activity is ongoing.  Footers are being framed this week and next, and concrete pours are scheduled during the first part of October.”

The same block also calls for a performance hub for the JAS Aspen Snowmass nonprofit. The new restaurant and performing arts space are not part of RH’s endeavor, but are in Hunt-owned properties.

The HPC is the governing body over the current changes being proposed by RH and M Development because the project under review is located in Aspen’s historic district. Aspen City Council also has the authority to review the HPC’s decision and let it stand or examine it further.

For more information, read our previous coverage:

Next RH Guesthouse is ‘teed up in Aspen,’ company CEO says

rcarroll@aspentimes.com