Letter: Compromise on church design

The remand from the City Council back to the Historic Preservation Commission of the St. Mary Catholic Church addition conceptual review will be on the commission’s agenda Wednesday at a meeting starting at 4:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers on the basement level of City Hall. I encourage all community members, both parishioners and nonparishioners, who value our community’s history to attend and speak out. Parishioners with a cumulative total of 1,000 years in the parish signed a petition supporting the alley location (Option A for the above-grade addition) as the least impactful. This petition was entered into the public record at the City Council meeting of April 25. The City Council voted 3-1 in support of Option A, placing the social hall entrance along the alley with no connector to the historic church. The City Council is asking the Historic Preservation Commission to reconsider its 4-3 vote to place the entrance along Main Street (Option B). Placing this entrance along Main Street would block the community’s primary view of the west facade of the church from Main Street.

The church lawn is one of the largest remaining open parcels in downtown Aspen, and it has given the historic church breathing room and a historic landscape and presence for generations. The applicant should be commended for placing the majority of its new square footage below grade. Placing the entrance adjacent to Main Street would serve to privatize the yard and shut the community off from this historic half block of Aspen and also significantly impact the public views of the church. As a lifelong parishioner, I believe the parish has a responsibility to be both a good community member and a steward of two of Aspen’s most historic buildings — the church and the rectory — both dating from the 1890s.

As a parish and as a community, we need to balance any new proposal with the historical heritage we are truly blessed to have. This balance may require some modifications to any new design to protect and preserve these significant buildings. Having no above-grade connection to the historic church and putting the social hall entrance toward the back of the property (Option A) are both reasonable compromises. The church should not turn its back on the community.

Lisa Markalunas