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Speak out; save Aspen’s soul

Junee Kirk

It is admirable that the City of Aspen, council, and planning staff have finally decided to listen to the public’s concerns over the city’s changing codes which accommodate the “infill” and massive redevelopment planned for Aspen. Hopefully the focus groups will give the community development staff, a better understanding of what visitors, as well as residents, want. People want to keep Aspen’s character of “small scale structures and large trees.” It is Aspen’s historical heritage that has made Aspen magical in past: its theaters, its restaurants, its mining cottages, its bars, its 1890 buildings, its bike shops in structures of the 70s and 80s. Will it all remain?It is precisely the “small scale communities” and the enforcement of strong codes that have preserved all other attractive towns like Carmel, Calif., Ketchum, Idaho, and downtown Santa Fe. Residents and visitors alike enjoy visiting these towns for their historic character. In Aspen, it is the small mining cottages with tall, mature trees aligning Main Street and its core. Everyone likes to visit places of another era, for it takes them back into the past. It is alarming to see it all disappear overnight. No small wonder there has been a moratorium placed on building in the downtown core. Aspen is rapidly changing from a small town to a large events center for profit. It will soon resemble urban redevelopment of a large city.A city planner showed me a photo of the approved Limelite Hotel and its residential units along the west side of Wagner Park. I was shocked. To me, it resembled an industrial complex that belongs in the Lower East Side of New York City, or the Bowery neighborhood. It is a four-story building, void of any open spaces, rid of all the mature trees that once gave shade to Wagner Park, and it blocks any view of Shadow Mountain or any sunset to the west of the park. When I asked the young planner (who has been with the city now for a year) if she thought such a design fit into to the character of our historic small town Aspen, she said, “Yes.” She said that it was what “infill” was all about: large, boxy, loft buildings in the urban development core.She remarked that the Hotel Jerome, and Wheeler Opera House are basically three stories high and are boxy and all other buildings should be able to do the same. I reminded her that there is a difference. The Jerome and Wheeler are historic landmarks. When they were built, nothing was surrounding them but one-story mining buildings, empty lots and open space. Does that mean that all buildings should go up to 46-feet high, with four stories? Should we become a walled city of high rent lofts, time shares and condos, I asked? “Yes,” she said, “It meets the goal of infill which is to maximize FAR on all lots. The big box warehouse look is now what the planners use as a model for future Aspen.’ For the movie theatres, bike shops, laundromats, video stores, flower shops, and quaint restaurants, we will all have to go downvalley to find these services. We are fast loosing it all.If you have any concern about these changes: the sale and redevelopment of the Little Annie’s building, the Ute City Bank, the Mother Lode, the Weinerstube building/Ajax Bike store, La Cocina, the Bidwell building/Kemo Sabe, the Isis Theatre, the Blue Victorian in the West End, the changes to the Hotel Jerome, and more, I urge you attend the final meeting on July 19th at the Hotel Jerome at 12 p.m or at 5:30 p.m. to voice your concerns.


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