Town Council begins review of Snowmass Center redevelopment
Town Council started its quasi-judicial review of the proposed Snowmass Center redevelopment and expansion project Nov. 4.
Approved by the Planning Commission with dozens of specified development conditions in early September, the planned redevelopment for the center includes an additional 16,646 square-feet of “community serving” commercial and 78 multi-family residential units (68 free market, 10 deed-restricted); the addition of 138 underground parking spaces, bringing the total above and below surface spots to 324; an atrium and increase in public meeting spaces; a new public transit facility; and significant renovations of the existing center businesses, including the U.S. Post Office and Clark’s Market.
But although the project review and public hearing lasted roughly an hour and a half, Town Council held little discussion.
Instead, members spent most of the hearing listening to presentations from town staff, members from Aspen’s Design Workshop, who represented the center developers, and a few members of the public.
“Today our hope and our desire and our intent is to give Town Council an overview,” said Brian McNellis, town senior planner overseeing the center project. “I think we’ve ended up in a much better place than the sketch plan. This is a much more solid site plan.”
To start off, McNellis went over the recent timeline since Town Council approved the center sketch plan in April 2018 and gave council a staff-recommended list of key areas of the proposed project to review, based on the 11 Planning Commission review discussions held between March and September.
The list included reviewing the applicant’s requested height, parking and residential unit variances from town policy; the applicant’s suggested community purpose plans in response to exceeding the town’s “future buildout” potential identified for the area, which includes a $750,000 monetary contribution for a proposed pedestrian bridge that could extend from the Snowmass Center area to Base Village; what connectivity between the center and Base Village should look like; and what street level services and retail should consist of, along with any other topics of review that arise.
Council determined it would make a site visit to the center on Dec. 2, then spend a portion of the majority of its regular meetings through the New Year at least reviewing the 11-building center redevelopment and expansion project.
On a recent afternoon a few days before the Nov. 4 council meeting, Richard Shaw and Jessica Garrow with Aspen’s Design Workshop went over the preliminary design plan proposed for the Snowmass Center.
By working closely with Eastwood Snowmass Investors, the owners and developers of the Center, town Planning Commission members and town officials, Shaw and Garrow said their design team has worked to make the Snowmass Center redevelopment a custom, sure-fit for the town.
That means focusing on the goals identified by Town Council through the 2018 comprehensive plan, including creating various public meeting spaces and pedestrian friendly hangouts, like the centrally located, weather protected atrium; increasing connectivity to and from the center; and developing a “main street” atmosphere, or vibrant town center, for locals and visitors.
“There’s always been a feeling that the center can offer more services and be a place with more of an identity,” Shaw, principal for the Design Workshop, said.
“We’re not trying to replicate Aspen, this is 100% Snowmass and focuses on what the community needs,” Garrow added.
Both Shaw and Garrow emphasized these community-minded and collaborative sentiments, anchoring on the “100% Snowmass” motive during the most recent council meeting and going over each element of the proposed plan in detail with the help of a mini Snowmass Center model.
“We wanted to incorporate greater degrees of color and some of the animation and excitement a retail center can bring, but also reflect the history and heritage of Snowmass design,” Shaw said of the center project at the Nov. 4 meeting.
But after the presentation, Town Council didn’t just commend the applicant on the improvements to the redevelopment project it has made since the sketch plan stage.
Councilman Bob Sirkus called out Shaw’s alleged failure to provide specifics to the Planning Commission when requested during its months-long review of the proposed redevelopment project, instead deferring some commissioner questions to Town Council.
“I find that inappropriate. I think it was demeaning to the Planning Commission and frankly in a sense it sabotages the process,” Sirkus said. “I feel that I needed to tell you that.”
Tom Fridsteain, a longtime architect and member of the Planning Commission who recused himself from the center review early on, also spoke out after the applicant presentation and brought forth a number of areas he feels Town Council needs to evaluate carefully during its review.
Fridstein commended the applicant for its work on the center project, but felt it was important for Town Council and center tenants to know where they will be relocated, for the applicant to include specifics on the design of the proposed atrium area and for councilmembers to really look at the roadway in and out of the center commercial area to ensure delivery service trucks can navigate with enough space and without disrupting pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
“The successful development of the commercial area of the Snowmass Center is critical to the success of our community,” Fridstein said. “This is a very important element in defining the character and functionality of Snowmass for decades. It must be the best it can be.”
On Nov. 5, Garrow said Fridstein raised a lot of important issues and concerns she and the Design Workshop team took a hard look at with the Planning Commission and will continue to discuss with Town Council.
Garrow said overall, the team feels good about the forward momentum of Center plan discussions with council, and aims to be as responsive to questions and concerns throughout the review process as possible.
Town Council will continue its Snowmass Center discussions after the Dec. 2 site visit scheduled for 3 p.m.
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