While Aspen City Council members expressed support for the general direction a new city park is going, they are hesitant to give a green light to the additional $700,000 needed without further information.
The project team working on the Aspen Commons build-out presented council with a draft proposal during a work session Monday night. The Commons greenspace, located next to the upper level of the library, will extend over the roof of new city offices, and look down over Rio Grande Park.
Former Mayor Bill Stirling and architect Harry Teague first came to council in March to suggest that the programming of the open space around the future city hall was lacking. In September, the council agreed to a $200,000 public outreach plan to gather community preference for how the newly created common space gets used. Throughout the fall, the design team has been hosting open houses with neighbors, stakeholders and the public, and presented several conceptual designs at the end of the year.
“We are making real progress here and we are doing it by listening to the community and responding to their desires,” Council Member Skippy Mesirow said of the extensive public outreach process.
The greenspace elements of the conceptual design include a flexible lawn space that would be able to accommodate performances; separate, quieter seating space; and the potential for a food cart or some sort of food and beverage operation.
The big questions of the evening hinged on the operations surrounding the greenspace. City staff asked council for direction regarding traffic flow on Galena Street, operations of the Galena Street Shuttle and staging of emergency vehicles.
Currently, the alley south of the library is a one-way street that curves around to Galena Street heading out to Main Street. Staff recommended the street instead allow two-way traffic In order to accommodate a more fluid route of the Galena Street shuttle, which is meant to take people from the Rio Grande Parking Garage into downtown, but also serves the Hunter Creek housing complex.
In order to do this safely, the conceptual design moves the emergency vehicles parked throughout the alley and alongside the jail, on to newly constructed parking spaces in front of the courthouse on main street.
Parks and Open Space’s Mike Tunte is leading the project for the city. He said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo made it clear that the patrol vehicles could get no farther away than where they are now, presenting only the option to have the parking remain status quo, or moved directly outside the front door of the courthouse.
He said that moving the vehicles behind the jail is not the right answer, and even taking over the four short-term parking spots on Main Street across Galena from the courthouse would not do.
“That adds response time that is unacceptable to the sheriff,” Tunte said.
Councilmember Rachel Richards said she understands the need for fast response times when law enforcement is called out, but pushed back on staging parking directly in front of the courthouse.
“For me, we would be diminishing the value of a historic landmark,” Richards said. “I think about other historic resources and we don't diminish them like that.”
Richards also called into question the usefulness of the Galena Street Shuttle as other alternative transportation opportunities have been brought into the mix recently, such as the Downtowner. Overall, council asked for more information regarding the Galena route, and the need for turning the alley to a two way in order to accommodate the shuttle.
Additionally, staff and council spoke about ways to invite the public into the commons space and said the current “do not enter” signs marking the one-way traffic at Galena Street are uninviting. But, if the road was converted to two-way traffic, it would only be to accommodate the shuttle, and signage would still need to exist banning other vehicles from entering.
Mayor Torre said he felt backed into a corner with some of the choices presented regarding the new city hall and commons area, due to decisions made around the development of the newly constructed Aspen Police Department and newly renovated courthouse.
“I have so many regrets about this area, it’s a difficult situation to come into at this stage,” Torre said.
Pitkin County Library Director Kathy Chandler expressed her support for the new plans and thanked council for the amount of input they have sought in their attempts to create what would be the city’s newest park.
“It was always thought of as a failed public space,” Chandler said.
Elements of the library that already have openings onto the plaza will continue to be incorporated in the new greenspace, including the William R. Dunaway Community Meeting Room, an outdoor reading patio and the children’s area.
Right now, with the one way design of the alley, drivers are able to use the on-street book drop, too. Council was told the book drop is so popular it needs to be emptied three times a day.
Councilmember Ann Mullins asked for the park design to have a more obvious central core to it, and not segments so much that a large community gathering would be impossible.
Torre agreed, telling the design team that the plaza may be incorporating too many separate elements in an attempt to be everything to everyone.
“It’s very delineated to me,” he said. “Perhaps it is too much.”
Tunte told council that the actual cost of the final build-out is hard to predict at this stage. New parking spaces in front of the courthouse would require a reconfiguration of the sidewalk and replanting of trees. Other options may bring the price tag up or down depending on the amount of signage and development needed.
Overall the plaza’s price tag as presented is above $2.6 million which is $716,000 more than is currently approved.