Feedback forum

Three design concepts for the open space at Rio Grande Plaza were unveiled during a public open house on Wednesday. The event also gauged public sentiment on electric scooters, Paepcke Park bus stops, 5G wireless networks and housing.

At the Limelight Hotel on Wednesday, the city of Aspen hosted two public outreach sessions designed to gather input on a full slate of public projects heading into the new year.

City staff representing new housing development, small-cell wireless design, dockless mobility regulations, Paepcke Park transportation improvements and Galena Plaza design all conducted targeted surveys regarding their projects.

Within both sessions there was an hourlong presentation by the design team that has created three conceptual designs for the public plaza that will be created by the new city hall building that’s under construction on Rio Grande Place. 

In September, the city council approved an additional $200,000 for design concepts and public outreach after concerned citizens led by Bill Stirling and Harry Teague said the city could do better in their efforts to create a new downtown park.

“I want to applaud the parks department,” Stirling said after the midday presentation Wednesday. “They’ve come a long way from where we were a year ago this time.”

The conceptual drawings that accompany the building-permit process for the new city government building were criticized as being uninviting and missing a crucial opportunity for creating a public commons.

“We tried to drive a Mack truck into that, and I think this is partly the result of that,” Stirling said about advocating for more design options.

The three additional options for “Aspen Commons” presented by Design Workshop include one that “maximizes linkages,” one that prioritizes “reflective engagement” and one focused on “programmed potential.” The options differ in the directness of the walkways connecting the library, city hall entrance and path to Rio Grande Park. They also designate different uses for the lawn that will be created on the roof of city hall’s ground floor, such as a performance space, seating areas, or a food and beverage kiosk.

Stirling said he liked elements of each concept. But he leaned toward the programmed potential as a favorite, for its ability to become a true community hub.

“I mean look where it is located. It has the potential to be a magnet in the same way that the gondola plaza is,” he said.

Toni Kronberg also found elements with which she agreed in each of the three conceptual drawings. Kronberg has been a vocal opponent of the new city offices, pushing for an up or down public vote on the development and joining in on a lawsuit regarding zoning issues with the building.

She said she was pleased with the step back and the intentional public outreach that the plaza is now getting.

“It’s taken us four years, one referendum, one lawsuit and one election to get to where we are right now,” Kronberg said. “And that’s what we should’ve done at the very beginning.”

She praised Mayor Torre and the new city council lineup for agreeing to reconsider Galena Plaza options, and for the emphasis on public outreach that led to the day’s event.

“Aspen is in a phase right now where things are starting to happen. The foundation has been laid for a lot of things, but now things are going to be put into concrete so to speak,” Kronberg said. “And it’s nice because it gives everyone an opportunity to talk about different ideas, and share ideas.”

Lynn Rumbaugh, the city’s transportation programs manager, oversaw a booth asking attendees about their thoughts on a dockless mobility plan for Aspen. This summer the city placed a moratorium on electric scooters and other devices that do not need a hub from being placed in the public right of way so that it could conduct enough public outreach to bring forward regulations for the new alternative transportation industry.

In stakeholder meetings this fall, the city heard from owners of bike shops who rent out e-bikes. They feel dockless devices would get an unfair advantage over their inventory. From the nearly 200 surveys that have been completed online to date, there is overwhelming support for restricting or outright banning scooters. Proponents of the devices say they will help remove cars from town or assist in the first and last leg of a commuter’s journey.      

Just next to the dockless mobility booth, attendees learned about potential safety improvements regarding bus stops along Paepcke Park. Bryana Starbuck, project manager for the engineering department, said many people who came to the feedback forum to give input on dockless mobility also took the time to answer questions about the Paepcke interchange. The idea of conducting all of the outreach simultaneously was to maximize the public’s time and gain perspectives that might not otherwise come out if each issue was parsed out as its own feedback session.

The forum also provided an opportunity for those who don’t vote in Aspen to still have a say on upcoming projects. A woman who lives in the AABC just outside of the city’s voting lines said she was grateful to still have an opportunity to give feedback on the Lumberyard housing development, which is still in the information-gathering stage and had a designated booth at the event.

The city team that is overseeing the crafting of design guidelines for small-cell wireless poles presented information regarding what can and cannot be regulated as 5G networks begin to grow across the country.

The Aspen Commons design concepts will be presented to city council on Dec. 16. The other projects are all still open for comment on the Aspen Community Voice website, and public feedback will be summarized and presented to council early in 2020.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.