The burning question |

The burning question

John Colson

Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob really has only one thing to say to voters in the 87-square-mile district this week, and that is: “Please vote.”Grob, who is asking voters to approve a $14 million expansion plan, said Thursday that his only concern about the election on Tuesday is that not enough people will go to the polls.Beyond that, he said, “I’m optimistic. The numbers are good.”In planning for this election, Grob said, he and a citizens committee studied other, nearby fire district elections for clues on the best campaign strategies.He said the committee concluded that the reason a 2002 Basalt fire district bond election passed by only two votes is too many voters, along with Basalt fire officials, “believed it was a slam dunk” and so did relatively little advance work to get out the vote.”That was a mistake we weren’t going to make,” Grob said, noting that his committee has been issuing fliers and talking with district residents in recent weeks.”Our message has been consistently: Please vote,” he said. It seems to have paid off, since the district already has received more than 200 absentee ballots.The district extends from Difficult Campground east of Aspen to the upper end of Snowmass Canyon and encompasses the Maroon and Castle Creek valleys, as well as most of the Woody Creek Valley (except the old mining camp of Lenado). The roughly 6,300 registered voters within those boundaries are eligible to vote on the ballot issue.The district is asking voters for permission to borrow $14 million through the sale of bonds, which it would use to build a new “major substation” on a 65,000-square-foot lot in the North 40 subdivision next to the Aspen Business Center and to rebuild the existing fire station on Hopkins Avenue in downtown Aspen.Also slated for remodeling is the adjacent Thrift Shop, which shares the city-owned Hopkins Avenue lot with the fire station.If approved, the new substation is where the department would house the bulk of its heavy equipment and wildlands fire gear, as well as other specialized equipment and a public education trailer used in the local schools.The new substation basically would be in the geographical center of the district and would allow firefighting teams to more quickly reach areas such as the Maroon Creek and Castle Creek valleys, the public schools and the hospital, as well as the North 40, Aspen Business Center and Burlingame corridor, where there is an increasing concentration of commercial and residential properties.Grob said the response time is about 15 minutes from the district’s two satellite stations at Woody Creek and Aspen Village to the ABC, where the new substation would be located. It then takes additional time to get to fires in areas such as the Castle and Maroon creek valleys. He said a national fire district model indicates the need for faster response times.The fire department has for several years been worried about response time from the downtown station to those areas because of traffic congestion on Main Street, the only road out of town to the west. Even if the city someday builds a new Entrance to Aspen to ease congestion, Grob said, the new substation would be necessary. If the measure passes, the downtown headquarters would expand to two stories and a basement (with potential for further expansion to a third story), with a community multipurpose meeting room. It also would provide space for an ambulance and firefighting equipment that is specifically suited to the commercial core, city neighborhoods and the immediately surrounding neighborhoods.Grob said there has been no talk lately about a proposal from an investment group to link the firehouse property with the adjacent Isis Theater property to create a combined fire station/arts and entertainment center.”We looked at it very seriously,” Grob said. “We just haven’t seen a plan that really makes sense, especially considering the strong community endorsement” for a the district’s development plan as it stands.The only polling place for Tuesday’s election will be the fire station headquarters at 420 E. Hopkins. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Absentee ballots will be accepted until 5 p.m. today, and mail-in ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m. on election day.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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