Town Council had a heavy agenda on April 6 at its first virtual meeting during the COVID-19 crisis.
Although talk of the coronavirus pandemic impacts creeped into most every discussion during the more than three hour meeting, council members focused on 2020 budget amendments, proposed amendments to the town’s land use code, Option 5 of the proposed mall transit center, and the Snowmass Center redevelopment project. Here’s the recap:
COUNCIL OKS CONTINUED DESIGN OF MALL TRANSIT CENTER OPTION 5
After months of discussion, Town Council decided to move forward with further design work on Option 5 of the proposed Village Mall transit center.
With the council decision to formally adopt and approve the Option 5 design, town staff will begin using its funds allocated for the project by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC) and through a state transportation grant to move forward from the conceptual design phase of the proposed transit center.
“It’s a major commitment and we want to make sure that if we’re going to move forward with this that the sort of general concepts are well in place,” said David Peckler, town transportation director. “If we’re going to commit these funds to this project, we want to move forward with a design that has council’s support.”
After Town Council expressed reservations about the mass and scale of the Option 4 transit center design in fall 2019, which included a bus platform at the mall level with a parking garage and roadway below that would replace Lot 6, town staff began to pursue Option 5.
Option 5 is similar to Option 4, but includes a smaller bus platform (reduced by 10 feet), pulls the connecting road from Upper Brush Creek Road to Lower Carriage Way out from beneath the platform deck and is estimated to cost $9.8 million, about $1 million more than the projected cost of Option 4, as previously reported.
The town has $650,000 from the EOTC and $300,000 of state grant funds allocated for continued design of Option 5, which Peckler and Kinney believe will cover most of the project’s total architectural and engineering design costs before construction.
Peckler and Kinney also emphasized to Town Council that approving Option 5 for continued design will allow the town to pursue further state and federal funding for the project, and that the transit center is still a long ways away from becoming reality as construction isn’t anticipated to begin until spring 2022 at the earliest.
But while council expressed general approval and confidence in the Option 5 design for the proposed transit center, some members questioned if now amid the COVID-19 crisis is the best time to move forward with the project.
After some discussion, council members decided that because most of the design work fees will be covered without using town funds and considering these outside funds may be unavailable or eroded over time, it made sense to move forward with continued design of Option 5.
“My position is that if we have these monies available from outside of the general fund or any of the town funds, it reduces the risk of spending money and not having anything happen,” said Councilman Bob Sirkus.
Town staff also committed to updating council on the design work progress at every major stage to ensure the project is moving in the right direction. The decision passed 4 to 1, with Councilman Tom Goode voting no.
ORDINANCE TO AMEND LAND USE AND DEVELOPMENT CODE TABLED
Council members tabled the ordinance that would change the way basement and mechanical space exemptions are measured and determined on second reading, April 6.
After lengthy discussion and presentations from both town community development department staff and longtime local architect T. Michael Manchester, Town Council felt more time needed to be devoted to proposed changes.
“This is not ready for prime time tonight,” said Mayor Markey Butler.
According to the town’s land-use code, which was last amended in 2013, homeowners and developers can pursue exemptions that allow them to exceed the floor area allowance of the lot they’re building or renovating on.
These exemptions include a basement exemption, which homes qualify for if at least 50% of the outside walls of the home’s basement level are subgrade. If a project qualifies for a basement exemption, developers can also add as much as 15% of the allowable floor area to the upper or lower levels of the homes as exempt space and have unlimited mechanical space are in the basement, as previously reported.
But over the years, town officials have seen the unlimited mechanical space not used as intended, often being converted to finished rooms for various living purposes after the fact, and even see fill added around a home so it does qualify for the basement exemption.
Community development officials said they feel this misuse could lead to potential public safety issues, negatively impact the residential character of the village with the potential for more mass and scale on the upper levels of homes, and allow homeowners to potentially circumvent the town’s floor area excise tax system, which benefits affordable housing in the community.
However, although Town Council generally agreed that the mechanical space exemption should not be unlimited and misuse should be addressed through a land-use code amendment, councilmembers felt there needed to be more discussion and research done on the best way for changes to be made.
Council also wants to hear more from the local developer and design community on the proposed land-use code changes, along with more from the town’s building officials.
Continued public discussion on the proposed land-use code amendments will take place at the May 4 regular meeting.
ANNUAL GRANT MONEY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS APPROVED
Town Council approved the $125,000 budgeted for the Citizens Grant Review Board to award its 2020 health and human service organization town grant winners with.
The board met before the COVID-19 crisis to review and discuss the 24 applications it received for the 2020 town grants, which go to health and human service agencies that provide a continuum of health care services or nonprofits seeking to enrich and promote the health and well-being of Snowmass Village residents.
While councilmembers questioned if the selected awardees should be re-evaluated in light of the COVID-19 crisis, town staff encouraged council to approve the grant selections and look at appropriating more funds to help with the pandemic if needed.
The $125,000 (up $25,000 from 2019) in grant awards fully or partially funded all applicant requests, including Challenge Aspen, Aspen Hope Center, Little Red School House, Snowmass Chapel, The Farm Collaborative and more.
OTHER COVID-19 RESPONSE UPDATES
Beyond its April 6 agenda items, Town Council also discussed a few other local responses and initiatives in place due to the COVID-19 crisis:
-After receiving complaints of improper social distancing at the skate park behind the town’s recreation center, town staff said increased signage will be put in place at all town parks this week. The parks were not closed to the public as of April 6, but staff urged village locals to follow social distancing and public health guidelines.
-Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk reminded village locals that free food pick up for Pitkin County residents is available every Wednesday at Aspen Middle School from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. If you are ill and/or cannot be there in person, call 970-205-7025.
Locals can also drop off food to be distributed to people in need every Friday at the same location from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Shenk said. Gift cards are also accepted.
-The Village Shuttle will continue to operate on a “bare bones” schedule, town staff said. As of April 6, the town shuttle system was moving about 90 people a day, mainly to and from the Snowmass Center, which is too high a volume to move to “dial for ride” service. For the schedule, visit snowmasstransit.com or use the TransitApp.