Task force eyes taller obermeyer ‘infill’ project | AspenTimes.com

Task force eyes taller obermeyer ‘infill’ project

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Another five-story building and, if necessary, a six-story structure, received a nod Wednesday from the community task force designing Aspen’s first “infill” project.

Going up is a tradeoff that will allow developers to boost the affordable housing and affordable commercial space in what’s being called the Obermeyer Place redevelopment, consultants told the task force yesterday.

The latest iteration of the project, slated for a funky corner of Aspen next to Rio Grande Park, includes 20 affordable housing units, about 38 free-market units, an underground parking garage, an enclosed recycling center and about 49,000 square feet of service/commercial/industrial space.

Four new buildings are envisioned to replace a hodgepodge of old industrial buildings, houses and other commercial properties along Rio Grande Place and East Bleeker Street, west of Spring Street.

In response to the task force’s input two weeks ago, the new plans include more SCI space and more affordable housing than previous designs.

To boost both components and make the bottom line work, the project needs another 10,000 square feet of free-market housing, according to consulting architect Bob Schiller of Cottle Graybeal Yaw Architects.

Task force members spent yesterday afternoon debating where to put it. They unanimously balked at expanding the project into Rio Grande Park. Going up was the most palatable option to gain some of the additional space. Tweaking the design of another building should provide the rest.

The project already included two buildings with partial fifth floors. The task force agreed to put a partial fifth floor on a third building – the one planned directly behind the existing Concept 600 building on Main Street.

At four floors, the new structure was close to the top of Concept 600. At five floors, it will be “significantly taller than Concept 600,” Schiller said.

Though designers didn’t think it would be necessary, a majority of task force members indicated they would entertain a partial sixth floor on a building that will border the park, roughly where Mittel Europa is currently located.

Some members, however, were clearly wrestling with the scale of the project and the views it would impact. Others pondered whether the community, let alone the neighbors, would find it palatable.

“When you’re looking at this thing, does it fit? Does it work for Aspen as a whole?” asked Neill Hirst, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“Should this site become the repository for all the affordable housing we’re lacking?” said Pat Fallin, a Concept 600 condo owner.

When Aspenites hear five- and six-story buildings are being contemplated, they worry the town will end up looking like Vail, she said.

“I think people in town, whether they can see it from Main Street or not, it’s important to them,” Fallin said. “The fact that a five- or six-story building is down there is offensive to a lot of people.”

The project could set a precedent that changes the character of Aspen, she warned.

“Tall buildings are Vail. I think that’s an emotional response. It’s not a very rational response,” said task force member Willis Pember, a local architect.

“We want to do it where it makes sense, and I think this is the place,” said architect Gilbert Sanchez, an HPC member.

The community benefits that come with the project need to be considered, as well, said City Councilman Tom McCabe. Those pluses include reclaiming the chunk of Rio Grande Park that currently contains the recycling center and a snow melter, and retaining all of the affordable commercial space that houses local-serving businesses.

“We’re trying to create a multi-use project with a vitality. I don’t see how this takes away from that,” said task force member Beth Gill.

“I don’t object to higher, but I think we have to do it carefully in two respects – where we do it and how we do it,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

The task force’s work to date will be the focus of a City Council work session on July 9. The group hopes to take a formal project proposal to the council for final approval by late August.

The project involves several pieces of private property, the bulk owned by Klaus Obermeyer, along with various slivers of city land.

Use of city property will require a public vote, which could take place in November.

Infill is a term coined by the city for projects that fill in spots within the town’s core. In exchange for allowing greater density or taller buildings, the city wants more affordable housing or other development it deems desirable.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com.]

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