Traffic study to focus on Emma site |

Traffic study to focus on Emma site

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – A traffic study will be the first step as Pitkin County considers what it should do with the historic Emma Store property it acquired in 2008.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of trustees committed to holding a meaningful discussion this year about the future of the property, the site of several buildings that date back to the late 1880s. It is located next to Highway 82 just downvalley from Basalt.

The old Emma Store building, the most prominent of the structures, was the focus of a restabilization effort in 2010 to keep it from collapse. The county spent more than $600,000 (including nearly $244,000 in state grant money) stabilizing and rehabilitating the store structure, which is actually two side-by-side buildings. This year, a similar effort will be undertaken on a smaller, crumbling structure known as the powder house behind the store. The county has allocated close to $47,000 for the latter project; the State Historic Fund will provide almost $95,000.

In all, the county has spent more than $3 million on the property, including on the acquisition and restoration of the store. It bought the parcel with the goal of saving the deteriorating buildings, but the 12.5-acre site also includes a Victorian home that is well-maintained and occupied, Roaring Fork River frontage and a small orchard.

Figuring out how to accommodate traffic in and out of the site off Highway 82 is paramount to determining its future potential, according to Dale Will, Open Space and Trails director.

The open space program will pay for a traffic study that will include counting the vehicles that pass by the Emma Store. The structure is a virtual stone’s throw from the highway on a curve, where vehicles are traveling at highway speeds.

The property can be accessed from a frontage road out of Basalt, currently used as a trail, and via a highway turnoff just upvalley from the store that is generally considered the most dangerous option.

“A left turn out of there is one of the more frightening things you’ll ever do on Highway 82,” Will said.

The third and most promising alternative appears to be access from an intersection just downvalley from the store site. It is located just over the county line, in Eagle County. How many vehicles could use it before the intersection would require an upgrade is among the questions that need to be answered, Will said.

Another option is parking at the old Emma schoolhouse on the opposite side of the highway and using a nearby pedestrian underpass to reach the store.

The open space program is planning a public process this year focused on potential uses for the Emma buildings, but the traffic question needs to be answered first, according to Will.

“We want to understand that … because I think that drives everything else,” he told the Open Space and Trails board last week. “It’s the pivotal piece of information that’s going to drive the rest.”

The open space program plans to convene a steering committee to look at possible uses of the property. The group is likely to involve representation from the town of Basalt, the Basalt Regional Heritage Society, the Emma Caucus and, given the orchard, the local-food movement, Will said.

“Any steering committee is immediately going to want to know what’s legal and possible there in terms of traffic access,” he said.

When the county purchased the property, putting the open space program’s administrative offices there was identified as a potential use, though a rezoning would be necessary. The county also retained the ability to resell the property, though open space officials have suggested carving out a parcel containing the structures and keeping the rest.

Some sort of a museum or a new home for the Willits Winter Market, a wintertime farmers market that has previously used vacant space in Willits Town Center, also have been suggested, according to Will.

“We just want to kind of put it out there and see what the possibilities are – not overlook any good ideas,” he said.

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