Whether to move or not to move | AspenTimes.com

Whether to move or not to move

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Current fire house location. Daniel Bayer photo.

In an offer that Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob calls “out of the clear blue sky,” city officials have asked fire officials if they would like to move their headquarters to a recently purchased piece of property on Main Street.

The “extremely difficult” part, Grob said, is making the decision together as a fire district and a volunteer fire department.

At an informational meeting of the fire district Tuesday afternoon, Grob tried to dispel rumors about the proposed move. The city purchased the Zupancis property at 540 E. Main St., next to the Pitkin County Annex Building, earlier this month for $3 million and is giving the fire department first dibs on developing the property into a new station.

The city’s offer is part of the Civic Center Master Plan, developed over the past few years to look at the future of major facilities in downtown Aspen. According to city planner Chris Bendon, potential new locations for the fire district and the Aspen Art Museum are major parts of the plan.

Grob said when initially working with the Civic Center Master Plan advisory group, he noted that a fire station on the plot of land in question would probably benefit from its location on the main thoroughfare through town and Hunter Street, which crosses to the other side of town. But Grob said when he and Chuck Torinus, a fire district board member, spoke with property owner Robert Zupancis, the talks dead-ended.

At a City council meeting shortly thereafter, Zupancis said his family’s property would “never be a fire station” according to Grob. Grob and the district’s board were surprised to find out that the city purchased the property earlier this month.

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And the first thing the city did was ask Grob to make the “strategic decision” about the future of the fire department, with the community master plan in mind, he said.

“We thought this was a dead issue, and all of a sudden it sprang back to life,” Grob said. “The community is asking us to expedite a decision, and that seems like a rational, reasonable request.”

Torinus said the city would like the fire district to come to a conclusion about their future location as soon as possible. But both he and Grob said the district needs a formalized decision-making process to speed the process along.

Several people at the meeting expressed concern that the decision was being rushed and should incorporate as many volunteer firefighters as possible.

“It’s like a gun is being held to our head to make a decision in 60 days,” said Jesse Graber, president of the volunteer fire department. “During the last year, the emphasis has been on a new location. Where are the plans about keeping our location here? We need equal consideration.”

Graber said that the current location is important for maintaining community support and the department’s volunteer spirit, since at their location on Hopkins Avenue they see more foot traffic than they probably would along Main Street. Grob and Torinus said the decision would remain an open-minded one.

Bennett Bramson, the Aspen Art Museum’s deputy director for development and external affairs, attended the fire district meeting since any pending decision could affect a new location for the art museum.

“The health and safety of the community is first and foremost. If you stay here, we’ll have no qualms, and we’ll look for another site,” Bramson said. “But if you move, we’ll jump on this site as fast as can be. It would be a great location for a new art museum and perhaps a performing arts center.”

At 26,500 square feet, the Zupancis property is more than twice the size of the plot the fire department currently occupies.

By the end of the district meeting, board members agreed to look into finding a facilitator who could be a neutral party during discussions about the future of the fire department. That planning process will begin at the next scheduled district meeting.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]