St. Mary Catholic Church expansion will go to Aspen City Council

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

It will be up to Aspen City Council whether to bless St. Mary Catholic Church’s proposal for an expansion.

With no discussion about their decision at the elected board’s meeting Monday, the council chose to call up the Historic Preservation Commission’s March 9 approval of the church’s proposal to build an 8,300-square-foot pavilion and social hall on Main Street.

The council could have elected to let the Preservation Commission’s 4-3 decision stand and the development to proceed, but because the project has sparked some division in the community, the proposal was almost certain to go to the council, said Community Development Director Jessica Garrow after the council’s decision,

Adding a new, modern structure to the historic facility has prompted some philosophical debate over the expansion — from the cost of the project, the juxtaposition of the old and new structures and the necessity of the enlargement.

The council will get its first official gander at the proposal at its regularly scheduled meeting April 25.

The social hall, as approved by the Historic Preservation Commission, would be linked to the west side of the church, which was dedicated in 1892.

In a survey done among St. Mary parishioners — 148 responded — 87 percent were in support of a social hall, according to the minutes from the March 9 Historic Preservation Commission meeting. The social hall would include a 1,300-square-foot lobby above grade — where church-goers could mingle after mass — with 7,000 square feet below grade to accommodate church events, according to a memo to the City Council from Amy Simon, the city’s historic preservation officer.

St. Mary Church, a 325-family congregation led by the Rev. John Hilton, has maintained it needs the extra space as it takes on more activities and missions, while the existing space does not meet its current needs.

The proposal had gone through multiple iterations until the Historic Preservation Commission found one to its liking last month.

“To some degree the proposal is just creating better space for activities that are already happening,” Simon’s memo says.

A study commissioned by the church showed that no additional on-site parking will be necessary with the expansion. It is not clear if more housing will be required; the council will make that decision based on its growth-management-quota system review. The church currently employs three full-time staffers, all of whom live on site.

The church provides a night shelter each winter for the area’s homeless population and holds a dinner and auction every St. Patrick’s Day to raise money for its charity-assistance fund.