Summer uses for Buttermilk lots debated

As plans for summer uses of Pitkin County-owned parking lots at Buttermilk move forward, some ideas are rising to the top while others appear to need more work.

That’s according to a discussion Tuesday by Pitkin County commissioners, who favored creating both a construction staging area and a large enough lot for transit users at four separate lots at Buttermilk.

However, a proposal to charge $8 a day to park in one of the lots and other logistical concerns, such as who might enforce and collect parking fees and tickets, need to be further fleshed out, according to commissioner comments.

Also, Commissioner George Newman suggested moving the staging area for the summer Maroon Bells shuttle from Aspen Highlands to the Buttermilk lots.

“I’d like to have staff look at that,” Newman said. “It seems to be a great place to capture people and eliminate car traffic (up Maroon Creek Road to Aspen Highlands).”

County board members have been debating summer uses for four county-owned parking lots — with a total of 347 spaces — at Buttermilk since the fall, when county staff pointed out the lots are under-utilized from April to December and often attract people camping or living in vehicles. The lots are heavily used in the winter mainly by skiers.

The plan includes using a 50-space lot nearest to Highway 82 as free parking for people who leave their cars and take Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses into town. The county would charge $8 a day for a 103-space parking lot with a 72-hour limit, while 15 spaces would be reserved for hikers and mountain bikers who want to access nearby Sky Mountain Park.

The final 179-space lot would be used for construction and commercial staging, which “is one of the biggest needs in our community,” said Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director.

Commissioner Steve Child said the construction area was “a terrific idea” because often staging is done in the neighborhoods where construction sites are located, which causes “congestion and turmoil.”

Commissioner Patti Clapper also thought the construction area was a good idea, though she said the transit lot should have an optional, flexible overflow space in case building projects in town, such as the base of Lift 1A, increase transit needs.

Child and Commissioner Greg Poschman wondered how well the $8 a day parking fee would work with drivers who might simply head into town and take their chances, they said.

One thing Clapper and Newman said they do not want at the Buttermilk lots is residents of the Burlingame housing development across Highway 82 parking there. Pettet said that is most common use of the lot during summer months.

“It’s not to be used as overflow for Burlingame because Burlingame didn’t provide enough parking,” Newman said.

As for moving RFTA’s summer Maroon Bells shuttle staging area from Aspen Highlands to Buttermilk, Pettet said he’d have to check with RFTA and Aspen Skiing Co. about how many spaces are needed for it. Newman said the idea was prompted by an Aspen Highlands-area resident who spoke at an Elected Officials Transportation Committee meeting last month and said she’s concerned about health problems stemming from the constantly idling buses in the summer.

Pettet pointed out that the entire proposal is an experiment and can be changed or tweaked as needed.