The new civic building and public plaza approved by voters in November will carry on as planned, despite numerous requests from residents to reconsider.
In a work session Tuesday night, Aspen City Council heard input from staff and citizens on a number of questions about the buildings’ design, use, and landscaping. City staff attempted to answer a slew of questions that were brought up June 10, the day the new council was sworn in. Citizens that day addressed council with a range of pleas and brainstorms, from removing the top story of the building to creating an underground parking garage below it.
Each member of the public who spoke Tuesday effectively asked for a pause in the project so alternatives could be considered, but at the end of the day Mayor Torre said the ball is already rolling.
“Your voices are being heard, but I guess I feel like we are a little late to this party, where decisions have already been made,” he said.
Torre did push for staff to re-examine portions of the plan, including creating a more open interface between the upper floor of the building and the public plaza that will extend the current open space on the east side of the Pitkin County Library
“I have a vision of this building inspiring our staff, where it is a pleasure to go, where it breathes, that you feel good,” Torre said.
He voiced frustration several times throughout the meeting that the interior use of the building has not yet been hammered out, and said his top concern is the placement of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association visitor information center. He said placing that office on the top level will make it harder for tourists to stop in and ask a quick question, especially those in RVs or busses that don’t fit in the city’s parking garage.
“Are we assuming that everybody is walking from the downtown core?” Torre asked.
The rest of council supported Torre in his requests for staff to look into the ACRA space, the relationship between the exterior and interior uses of the building, and efforts to create the most ecologically efficient building possible.
None of the council had an appetite to reopen Ordinance 4, the measure that went before voters in the fall and secured Rio Grande Place as the site of the new civic building. The ordinance lists specific size and scale of the building, allowing for a 10-percent increase if desired. However, anything that would change the size outside of those parameters, including decreasing the size, would require an amendment that would go back in front of city council.
The issue arose because members of the public suggested the top story, which would line up on Rio Grande Plaza next to the top story of the library, be eliminated from the plan. Peter Grenney told council he was representing a list of nearly 120 citizens in suggesting the floor be eliminated in order to protect Aspen Mountain views from Rio Grande Park and Smuggler Mountain views from Mill Street.
As proposed the top floor would be comprised of two main rooms. One would be an updated Sister Cities room. Right now the room with the same name in the Armory Building — what is currently city hall — is used for government meetings such as the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Next Generation Commission. That space would also be used as city council chambers during a future revamp of the Armory.
The second space would be a community meeting space, much like the Rio Grande Room that used to be available for city and community use, above Taster’s Pizza. That space is now used for city offices. City staff also compared the space to the library’s Dunaway Meeting room, which hosted 420 events last year.
The council was split on the need for community space in Aspen.
“I very much question this need,” said Councilman Skippy Mesirow.
He said anecdotally he has not had a problem finding space to use for meetings, and hears from others in the business community that it is not a problem for them, either.
“I don’t doubt the need for the floor,” countered Councilwoman Rachel Richards, who pushed for a long-term vision.
“If we just take our anecdotal knowledge of what we think we need and use today that is not going to accommodate our community 50 years from now,” Richards said.
Council also heard a presentation from the Parks Department, which has been working with the citizen group Friends of Galena Plaza. They set a timeline that includes public hearings on the potential connections between the new office space and nearby Rio Grande Park and John Denver Sanctuary. Council approved the process and timeline for the community outreach on those matters.