Truce in Snowmass Chapel fight? | AspenTimes.com
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Truce in Snowmass Chapel fight?

Chad Abraham

This religious war has a truce, at least temporarily.In an effort to ease the tension in Snowmass Village surrounding the Snowmass Chapel redevelopment plans, the chapel’s leader on Monday called for an open forum to discuss the proposal.Chaplain Edgell Pyles was repentant at the Snowmass Town Council meeting. He said the church had not meant to divide the community and create conflict when it sought the town’s approval for a six-story, 33,000-square-foot structure.”We certainly did not intend that,” he said.Chapel opponents Mel Blumenthal and Bob Purvis approached church officials last week to talk about meeting, Pyles said. The forum will involve three opponents of the chapel plan, three supporters and a professional moderator, he said. There will also be an architect on hand to discuss the plan.The goal would be “a compromise that’s easier to handle,” the chaplain said. “It’s the best we can do at this time.”If the proposal changes, the chapel’s governing board would have to approve it. And it’s possible that no compromise will be reached and the same plan could be back before council. But Pyles promised good-faith negotiations.Council members applauded the effort. Councilman John Wilkinson, a critic of the original proposal, asked Pyles if chapel officials are willing to change their plans.”We’re willing to talk about a compromise that still meets our needs,” he replied.Wilkinson and fellow council members Sally Sparhawk and Bill Boineau offered their support of the forum, as did Mayor Doug Mercatoris. Boineau thanked the sides for “giving us some breathing room.” Councilman Arnie Mordkin has recused himself from the chapel discussions. Purvis, a former Snowmass councilman, said Pyles’ gesture was an honestly brokered offer.”I think it’s going to be done the right way,” he said.The Town Council could have approved or rejected the chapel plan Monday evening but granted a continuance to allow the meeting.Pyles said the forum will be “as open and transparent as we can make it.” His church has spent an estimated $700,000 during the planning process. In response to neighbors’ anger, one story of the proposed structure has been eliminated, he has said.The structure would be a community amenity offering a host of musical programs, supporters say. It will also allow for the growth that is expected to accompany Base Village.But church officials angered many residents by referring to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.The federal statute provides protection for religious freedom in land-use issues. By bringing it up, opponents say chapel officials are hinting they will sue the town under the anti-discrimination act if the plan is not approved.They have also harshly criticized the proposed structure’s height, mass and scale, which exceed the town’s building code, and opponents contend the building will dominate the landscape.After Monday’s meeting, Pyles said he was going to hire a facilitator today. He would like to hold the meeting “as soon as possible,” and suggested that it could be scheduled for Monday.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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