Zoning change could preserve Aspen’s Given Institute
September 9, 2010
ASPEN – The Given Institute property could be rezoned to allow only academic usage if a last-minute resolution gets four votes from the Aspen City Council on Sept. 20.
The ordinance, which saw its first reading Wednesday, would make it difficult for the property’s owner, the University of Colorado’s medical school, from selling it, said university spokesman Dan Meyers.
CU has been trying to sell the lot since late June.
Meyers said CU is in talks with two potential buyers who have expressed interest in the property at 100 E. Francis St. But the proposed ordinance, if passed, could make it less attractive to the buyers because they want to use it for residential purposes.
The current zoning policy for the Given allows it to be used as a dwelling. Current zoning also allows it to be demolished and replaced by a single-family residence.
Meyers said the school is disappointed in the action, which he said only favors a few interested Aspen residents and fails to look at the bigger picture that CU no longer has the money to sustain the Institute.
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The university announced in June that it wanted to sell the Given because the school spends about $200,000 every year in operating costs for the medical seminars it holds there.
CU has said that it can no longer afford the costs the building imposes due to drastic shortfalls in state funding for higher education.
Aspen asked CU to wait for a November ballot item that would have asked voters permission to buy the institute. But the City Council backed out of that deal because it didn’t want to pay the $15 million that CU was asking for it.
Meyers expressed frustration because he said the university was willing to work with Aspen, agreeing to wait until November to sell.
He said the two buyers currently looking at the lot have not said they would definitely demolish the building, which the original buyer was planning to do. The original buyer had told CU that it was not interested in the property unless the university destroyed the building first.
Meyers noted, though, that nothing is final.
“We’re talking about a snapshot, and this is still a movie,” he said.
If the City Council passes the measure, which is emergency legislation that would take effect within 24 hours after approval, any use of the property would have to be academic or for housing students or faculty of an educational institution.
Longtime Aspen philanthropist Elizabeth Paepcke gave the lot to the university in 1970 to be used as a forum for educational programs.
“The entire history of the Given has been academic,” said the city’s special counsel, Jim True, in Wednesday’s meeting.
The Given Institute is neighbors with the Red Brick Center for the Arts and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, both of which house some academic facilities.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said the proposal would make the property “consistent” with those neighbors.
Councilmen Steve Skadron and Derek Johnson agreed. Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Torre did not attend the meeting.
City officials have been trying to save the Given since the university announced its plans, implementing a number of efforts, including getting it established as a nationally recognized historic landmark and campaigning to convince voters to buy it.