Britta Gustafson: Heart of Snowmass
It’s hard to get our finger on the pulse of this community when our heart is in a quandary.
For decades, the Snowmass Center has been the straightforward nucleus of the village. Our lack of home delivery for our mail creates the routine need to head to the post office, inevitably leading to social interactions and providing a sense of connection whether it is sought or not.
It was there that the heart of the community was formed in a funky, concentrated structure from which all professional, political, social and functional matters extended. Our pulse radiated from its hub, a physical location where a true sense of community was reinforced on a daily basis. It was convenient, easy to drive to, or jump on and off the shuttle at, and it housed almost all of our daily needs.
It has been a vital organ for Snowmass. Having a core means having a touchstone for a true sense of community. Now with the proposed redevelopment plan we have the chance to bring that back, or lose it forever.
I remember sitting down at my desk in the Snowmass Sun office, which had once resided on the second floor in the northwest corner of the center, and gazing out at the ski slopes. Inspiration would most always strike.
From there, I could wander down to Taster’s and let the locals weigh-in on the topics of the day. Depending on the subject, I could run up to Town Hall or pop into the marketing department or head down the hall to the police department, all of which were located on the top floor at the time.
I kept a vigilant eye on the community bulletin board, which was packed with all the goings-on; it wasn’t that long ago when posting was literal. And I kept my ears open at the post office. As a result, it was hard to miss a beat just meandering through the center.
Over the years you could visit the dentist or doctor at the Center, get a prescription filled or find the perfect bottle of wine at Sundance. Running in to pick up dry cleaning coupled with a friendly chat with Mrs Luu has always been easy and convenient. The center’s housed hardware stores, banks and salons, ski rental, bike repair, real estate and retail shops, for a time even a print shop, and of course our beloved village market. It never impaired our views of the mountain, it allowed us to get jobs done together and get back to enjoying this beautiful place.
It has always been fairly easy to navigate and even today makes a trip to Aspen feel overwhelming after enjoying the luxury of quick, free parking a skip and jump from all your basic community needs.
Yes, our heart has been housed in a quirky building that needs, even begs, for an upgrade. But what wasn’t lost in its design was a genuine functionality for its time. Still, there is much potential for revitalization. And we have, in some ways, outgrown various aspects of the space, but we might stand to lose much more if we update without re-examining how to take it to its greatest potential.
In our current town comprehensive plan, the community expressed what it hopes to see in our center as we move forward: A redeveloped town center that supports our valued existing tenants, offers more small retail opportunities and provides a connected, convenient and active pedestrian environment that includes interactive gathering spaces.
The current proposal feels like a start but seems to fall short, missing the opportunity to make the space more active, attractive, convenient and vibrant.
Perhaps it is the compromised traffic, pedestrian access and servicing complications that feel underwhelming. It seems very difficult to provide adequate servicing of supplies and trash removal from the buildings in the middle of a small, congested two-way street.
And the opportunity to enhance the aesthetics will quite literally be overshadowed by the very structures once they are built. The illustrative renderings touting nature connections and landscaping are misleading. Building 6 is tall, not Base Village tall, but it will still appear massive from Brush Creek Road, blocking sunlight and obstructing views. All that green we see in the renderings is a false narrative.
Do we really need to do that again?
Our convenient community center is likely to end up less convenient and seems to be running on the notion that somehow all of the proven logistical complications and aesthetic disappointments will just iron themselves out in the end.
Another community request that reverberated universally during the town comprehensive plan’s community forums was the desire for an indoor, communal meeting space. Requests regarding the hopes and intentions for the center’s redevelopment to include a centrally located place to meet and connect were clearly heard by all.
There will be a new generation coming soon that wants to sit face-to-face once again and connect. What with cyber-connectivity it may not seem trendy now, but our humanity depends on it and our sense of community can only be strengthened by it.
The Planning Commission requested such a space which they called the atrium, similar to the Snowmass Hive of the early 1970s, which was very popular in its day. However, such a location doesn’t seem to have been fully developed.
The applicant also is seeking additional approval for an increase in onsite residential units. These newly requested structures will further encapsulate, disconnecting the mountains from the center and clogging the major arterial flow through the essence of our community.
It seems that in return for this request, council should pursue a commercial core that reflects and revitalizes the heart of our center in a way that this town deserves, having given up so much in the past in the name of real estate.
Perhaps only in an era that provides “theoretical connectivity” while encouraging emotional and personal disconnects can we simultaneously attempt to provide more connections while inexplicably moving away from the already functioning convergence zone that has served said purpose for decades.
But there are ideas out there for ways to create a much more active, pedestrian friendly environment at our center and opportunities to preserve the sunlight and the views of the mountains we have all loved for years. There are ways to resolve most of the service and access problems, and proposed suggestions offered to council on how to keep the heart of Snowmass healthy and pumping.
As with all matters of the heart, you know it when you find it. Defining the character and functionality of Snowmass Village for future decades depends on how council moves forward on this vital organ for our community.
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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