Some facts in visitor center controversy |

Some facts in visitor center controversy

Aspen City Councilman Tim Semrau.

As is our local custom, the first casualty of this fall’s election “controversy du jour” is the facts. I’m referring to the visitor center vote.Here are the facts:• The city has been offered free and clear ownership of 3,000 square feet of office space in a to-be-constructed building on Main Street across from the Texaco (market value estimate: $2 million).• The city has chosen to use the main floor of the space for a new, three-times-larger visitor center operated by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and lease the basement level to ACRA for office space at about $50,000 a year. These uses could change in the future as conditions warrant.

• The current ACRA offices, located at the Rio Grande parking garage, would be vacated and revert back to the city and could be leased to other organizations.• The existing parking for visitors at the Rio Grande visitor center consists of five short-term spaces. The new proposed visitor center on Main Street provides 12 short-term parking spots.• Eight police parking spots on Galena would move to the current planter area on the south side of the library plaza. The current trees must be removed from the planter area soon to repair the leaky car garage roof. None of the existing open grass area of the library would be used for police parking.• The proposed building conforms to city height, density and floor area rules and probably will be built on this privately owned site with or without inclusion of a new visitor center.

• The city has decided to waive affordable housing mitigation for the building in lieu of the visitor center use, although it still retains the rights to “buy down” two units. Affordable housing mitigation was also largely waived at the Obermeyer project in lieu of other community benefits. The city initially approached the landowner with the idea of a new building including a visitor center.Personal Opinion:Why wouldn’t the city accept an extremely valuable gift? Because the neighbors want their views protected? Because our local chapter of CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) believe any change whatsoever to Aspen threatens our way of life? Because enhancing the visitor experience is not in our long-term interests? I certainly understand the neighbors’ (Galena Lofts) opposition to any change to their existing views. Unfortunately there is no protection from an adjoining landowner exercising his building rights. Should the city refuse a $2 million gift to temporarily preserve their private open space?

Their building is 40 feet tall with no parking whatsoever, no affordable housing mitigation and doesn’t conform to city code. It only exists through a renovation loophole provided by preserving two walls of the existing structure, a code oversight that has since been rectified. The proposed building is predominately 32 feet high, meets city codes and will probably be built with or without a visitor center. Some say we have no need of a new visitor center. Have you been to the existing one? Do you even know where it is? It is a tiny, bathroom-less, hard-to-find space next to the exit of the parking garage that doesn’t provide our guests a welcome representative of the Aspen experience. Do we need visitors in the future? I think so. Will a new visitor center help? Probably, especially since there is no cost in providing a new one.A citizen committee spent a year to conclude our best location is the new building proposed on Main Street. Our city commissions endorsed the location. Even if a better location existed, which is doubtful since one hasn’t been identified, the city is in no position to spend the millions another location would require. Will the library plaza be diminished? Go take a look, and imagine the planter adjoining the alley removed with the rest of the grassy area of the plaza remaining. Regardless of the vote, the planter and trees will be removed anyway to repair the leaking roof of the parking garage. A no vote on the visitor center question is actually a yes to move ahead and accept a $2 million gift. Don’t we want our visitors to feel welcome?

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