The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the Pitkin County Library’s application to expand its building at a meeting on Tuesday.
Last month, the library submitted an application to add about 7,200 square feet to the existing 31,900-square-foot facility, plus an outdoor reading patio of about 1,225 square feet that extends onto Galena Plaza, which sits on top of the Rio Grande Parking Garage.
There were three land use approvals that needed to be addressed by the commission before the application can move to City Council for approval. Those approvals included a Specially Planned Area (SPA) amendment for the new addition to the library, the designation of the library as an essential public facility and the review of how many new employees will be generated by the expansion and if that requires housing mitigation.
The library expects to ask Pitkin County voters this fall to approve a property tax increase of $5 million to help pay for the $10 million expansion, which will also be funded by a $5.3 million endowment.
The commissioners were amenable to the scale and design of the new structure, but questioned the size of the roof that extends 16 feet from the building to create a covered outdoor reading space, which designers called a “civic porch” concept.
Eight people spoke during the public comment period generally in favor of the library, including local resident Jack Wheeler, who said he was against the Basalt library renovation, but has since become a devout fan.
“I love the Basalt library,” Wheeler said. “And I think Pitkin County deserves that same revitalization.”
Andrew Ernemann, a local resident who lives next to the library, was the only voice that questioned the expansion. Ernemann expressed his concerns about the noise from construction and said he hoped it would be done in conjunction with the Galena Plaza redevelopment and parking garage repair to minimize the amount of disturbance. He also questioned the size of the extended roof and how it would impact light in the area.
“I think it’s really unfair to have a 40-foot easement and build a 60-foot [extended roof],” he said. “It seems like a lot more attention should be put on the easement.”
Commission member Stan Gibbs agreed with Ernemann’s perspective and questioned how the porch would work during the winter months.
“I have the same reaction to it,” Gibbs said. “I think shaded space in snow country, unless it’s heated, isn’t very attractive.”
The building designers argued that the extension of the roof was necessary to support the expanded structure, which would be built on top of the Rio Grande Parking Garage.
“We had to pay close attention to the structure,” said local architect Willis Pember, from Design Workshop. “We’re not building on terra firma. We’re building on a parking garage.”
If the builders don’t extend the roof, the alternative would be to build a support system through the concrete T-structures below in the parking garage. That would be costly, time consuming and difficult, Pember said.
The planning commissioners decided to recommend approval the structure with a note for designers to look into possible alternatives to the reduce the size of the extended roof.
The issue of whether or not the library should offer housing mitigation for more employees was debated. The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) board recommended that the library be required to provide housing for 2.87 full-time employees. APCHA got that number by dividing the current square footage of the library by the number of employees and applying that ratio to the additional square footage.
Kathy Chandler, the Pitkin County Library director, argued that the number was not a fair, because the expansion is not going to produce any new staff, she said.
The commissioners agreed that as long as there are no new employees, the library shouldn’t be responsible for providing additional housing. They decided unanimously to waive the mitigation requirement but require an audit one and three years after construction to determine if the situation has changed. If so, the library will be required to provide housing mitigation based on the code at the time.
The mood was generally optimistic about the project by the end of the meeting as the commissioners complimented the design team.
“We’re glad we’re not up here trying to convince you that [installing] a new hot tub at a five-star hotel is a community amenity, because that isn’t,” Pember said. “This really is.”
The application will go before City Council in the next few months for a final approval.