Rabbi expects smooth sailing for Aspen Chabad project
ASPEN Assuming the proposed Chabad Community Center project in Aspen moves ahead on all fronts, it is unlikely that there will be a constitutional fight over the project such as Pitkin Countys recent battle over the Grace Church in Emma, one official said.Unless, of course, the city changes its tune and rejects the proposal to build a Jewish synagogue and community center on the site of the former Silver Lining Ranch, at the end of Ute Avenue near the Aspen Club.If that happens, said Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Chabad congregation on Wednesday, then we can sit down and discuss it.The Chabad congregation, which is one of two sizable and active Jewish congregations in the Aspen area, is exploring the idea of buying the six-acre Silver Lining Ranch property and converting the existing 14,000-square-foot building there into a community center. The ranch formerly was used to offer accommodations and activities to children with life-threatening diseases.Although Mintz and others have declined to discuss the negotiations, the listing broker recently told The Aspen Times that the initial price of $25 million had dropped to $20 million after the city said it wanted the property to remain in the hands of a nonprofit organization.According to documents on file at City Hall, the congregation began to consider the acquiring the ranch after construction bids on another potential site for the center, on Main Street, came back much higher than expected.Mintz, responding to a reporters question, said this week that his congregation never has considered falling back on the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000 that essentially forbids governments from imposing restrictions on the right to worship through zoning or other land-use controls.In the case of Grace Church, the Pitkin County commissioners denied an application to build the church in 2005, based on the countys conclusion that the church was not compatible with other neighborhood uses. That sparked a lawsuit by the church congregation, and competing legal action by the neighbors opposing the church. The dispute ultimately was settled out of court earlier this year in favor of the church, which now is under construction.But in the case of the Chabad project, Mintz pointed out, the city already has approved a plan to build a Jewish community center and synagogue on Main Street, at the location now occupied by the LAuberge lodge, based in part on testimony from neighbors in support of the project.And, Mintz continued, he and others associated with the congregation have begun making the rounds with neighbors of the old Silver Lining Ranch, which is situated on one of six lots in the Stillwater Ranch PUD. Mintz has said the congregation is talking and thinking about changing course to build at Silver Lining Ranch, although no decisions will be made until the city weighs in and the neighbors concerns are heard.We want to be good neighbors, Mintz said. We are good neighbors. The rabbi said the owner of the Aspen Club has seemed open to the idea of the community center, and that congregation representatives have started talks with some other neighbors. He declined to say how the neighbors have reacted.Mintz noted that, in the case of Grace Church, They wanted to work with local government, too, but the county denied their application. The church had no options other than going to court, he said.Obviously, thats an option we have, but thats not something were thinking of, he continued, explaining that he, personally, knows a number of city officials and anticipates no trouble in getting the citys approval for the project.Why would they deny such an application? he asked somewhat rhetorically. Were confident that the city staff, and the P&Z and the council will get behind this as something that benefits the community.The Chabad Center, if approved, would contain a synagogue as well as classrooms for Hebrew instruction, pre-school education and adult email@example.com
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