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ISSUE #120: No Holiday tANTrum

"Despite the enormous role that local government plays in our daily lives, the Constitution makes not one mention of it." 

-- Anthony Albanese


It's been very quiet at the Library lately.  Or, better put, it's been very quiet where the Library temporarily operates amidst their expansion -- at the Old Power House.  This is as it should be.  For one, libraries are quiet places.  And for another, the Old Power House is located in a long-standing residential neighborhood in Aspen that is zoned R-30 (residential).  In fact, all land north of the Roaring Fork River in Aspen is zoned R-30.  Again, as it should be.  The Library, like the Aspen Art Museum before it, can legally occupy the space in this R-30 neighborhood because of a special overlay for "civic, arts and cultural uses."  As a NIMFY (not to be confused with NIMBY because the Old Power House is in my FRONT yard), I love having a museum, a library just outside my door - these are wonderful neighbors.

But is the quiet to last?  In early 2015, against its own directive to attract local non-profit applicants for tenancy at the Old Power House, council rejected proposals from numerous qualified groups and chose instead "The Aspen Power Plant (APP)," a conflagration of boisterous, millennial-pleasing entities that promised in their proposal to offer libations and "provide events at the Old Power House morning, noon and night, 365 days of the year."  This selection was just that, a selection.  It was not an ordinance.  It is not law.  And that's a good thing.  Several council members learned the error of their choice when it became clear that a for-profit brewery, bar, television station, public event space (indoor and out), subsidized office space and event planning company did not exactly fit into the "civic, arts and cultural uses" overlay to the R-30 zoning of the property. 

There's quiet alright.  Not a peep coming from the city regarding its negotiations with the "APP" for the lease of the Old Power House.  Since the APP's model does not adhere to the R-30 zoning with the established overlay, what is the city's plan?  Crickets.  Yes, council got caught up in the romanticism of the "party barn" idea, but when it came down to brass tacks, changing the zoning of such a building in a residential neighborhood to public, commercial or perhaps even industrial use simply should not happen.  According to Aspen Public Radio, plans will be made public in January.  


You asked, so I looked into it.  "In 2010, voters rejected a $5 million bond toward a $10 million expansion of the Pitkin County Library that would take the building from 32,000sf to 40,000sf (a 25% increase).  What is going on over there when the papers are reporting on a current $14.3 million construction project that is benefitting from a $1 million balance transfer from the county?"

In short, what's happening now (vs. 2010) is a completely different project.  The increase in size will be 7000sf, but this project will be built out over the city's parking garage on an existing easement, in a coordinated effort with the city amidst its garage replacement construction in order to split costs proportionally.  The 2015-16 project inherently invites comparisons to the earlier proposal, but it entails a more expensive infrastructure (steel beams) and some serious capital replacement (carpet, painting, roof repairs, skylight replacement, ceiling replacement, LED light fixtures, and lighting control and installation).  The earlier proposal was the library's attempt to present taxpayers with the least expensive way to expand.  Two primary goals of the current expansion are to provide a meeting room for public use as well as a "safe, vibrant children's room."  Both will be noteworthy enhancements to the library's offerings.

The new section, on the east side of the property, is a one-story split level addition, with a lock-off meeting room and an outdoor roof deck above.  The entire interior of the library will be reconfigured to enhance ADA accessibility, create an area for teens, provide restrooms on every floor, consolidate staff rooms on the lower level, relocate and widen the east staircase and update the furnishings.  Look for a small café to further enhance the library experience.

Financially, finally The Red Ant can share a "good news" story.  Exercising fiscal restraint and value engineering, librarian Kathy Chandler and county manager Jon Peacock have masterfully managed the funding of this $14.3 million project - and please note the impressive fundraising campaign.  In short:

  • Endowment at the start                          $7,414,000
  • Donations and pledges (2014-2019)         $4,679,000
  • CORE Grant*                                           $ 154,000
  • Existing fund balance**                           $1,089,000
  • Advance from Pitkin County***               $1,000,000

TOTAL                      $14,336,000

*The CORE grant, from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, recognizes the library's commitment to installing energy efficiency upgrades.

** The existing fund balance refers to the library's capital replacement budget not spent in advance of the project (deferred maintenance, etc.).

***The advance from Pitkin County should be viewed as a "cash flow" bridge; donations (2014-2019) are pledged but will not all be collected this year.  The advance will be repaid over the next two years in $500K increments from donations and/or tax revenues already budgeted.

In emptying every last coffer to fund the project, the library continues to independently fundraise.  The goal is to reach a $14.8 million target number so as to replenish funds (such as housing) that were depleted in order to make this a reality.  Please consider rewarding this remarkable effort:  The expanded library will open in Summer 2016.


Just back from his triumphant boondoggle (we paid $2332 for his airfare, cabs and hotel) to the Paris climate talks -- yes, in Aspen the belief is still strong that what we do in our little town will motivate global leaders to become as green as we are because everyone wants to be like Aspen -- mayor Steve Skadron shocked opponents of the now-shuttered hydro plant by balking at the majority of council's directive to city staff to find an alternate use or buyer for the custom $1.6 million turbine that has been gathering dust in a city warehouse since the project was killed 18 months ago.  Prompted by Jim Markalunas, who operated the city's 19th century hydro plant until it was closed in the 1950s, Skadron extolled the city's historic connections to hydro power and his personal preference for home-generated energy.  He then stated that the city should not sell the turbine, rather, we should figure out how to get the hydro plant built!!  Should we fear Hydro 2.0?  According to sources, The Red Ant has learned that "there is no way in hell" that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would issue the city a permit for the Castle Creek Energy Center.  With over $10 million spent (or better put, flushed down the drain) and a public advisory vote to put a nail in the CCEC's coffin, it's remarkable that our mayor just can't let go.  Remarkable, and frightening.


I followed with interest the application for a patio tent submitted by The Grey Lady restaurant on the Mill St pedestrian mall.  Last year, the city granted them a permit to enclose their sizeable patio from January through April.  When they returned this fall to ask for another go, council showed some interesting colors.  The request was denied, of course, (but later approved for December 24 - Jan 3 only) but not before Adam Frisch acknowledged "a sincere over-demand for seating in town at dinnertime."   And he's right.  Mayor Skadron played the precedent card, worrying that other restaurants might come forward with similar requests.  One of The Grey Lady's owners then asked why this would be a bad thing.  Bingo.  Skadron and council are of the belief that tents are inherently unseemly and "detract from community character."  I disagree.  I believe that during the winter, specifically during the holidays, the best community character Aspen can present is one that welcomes and comfortably accommodates all of our guests.  If every restaurant with a patio wants to tent and heat that area in order to accommodate more visitors, well then by all means let's help make it happen.  How easy would it be to formulate some simple and safe guidelines for restaurant owners to expand their premises on a short term basis, say December 19 - January 3?  We've all been to parties in attractive tents.  I love the idea of walking through Aspen with several visible dinner parties going on.  How vibrant and festive.  And welcoming.


Have you checked out our new $9.3 million publicly-funded bus station at Rubey Park?  The depot serves over 2 million RFTA passengers annually and it was decided that a bigger building would better serve those who ride the bus.  Sure, it looks nice enough.  And it should for that kind of money.  But I will never understand why city planners and council didn't look at the bigger picture.  Why on earth is our bus depot stationed on Durant Street, front at center at the base of our glorious mountain?  For the real money spent on refurbishing the 30-year-old station, ought we not have considered moving our transportation hub to a less visible and less impactful locale, such as down by Rio Grande Park?  It's where the public parking lot is and where city's new offices will be.  Surely, there could be less impactful shuttles running continuously through town and to the gondola.  But no.  $10 million: easy come, easy go.  Just like all those buses, clogging up the center of downtown.


You might be traveling through Rubey Park sooner than you think!  Despite the fact that Aspen's traffic has remained lighter than 1993 levels for 22 years, downtown parking remains a hideous problem.  The city is working to address this with a couple of dynamic pricing systems:  charging based on time of year (lower prices in the off seasons, status quo pricing in January, February, early April, early June, September, early October and early December, and 50% higher pricing in March, late June, July, August and late December) or by location:  charge the most for the four busiest in-town blocks.  Look for parking changes in the new year.  Just don't look for solutions -- or more spaces.


Perhaps taking a page from John Sarpa (who masterfully steered the soon-to-be redeveloped Sky Hotel through the local approval process), locals Jeff Gorsuch, Bryan Peterson, Paul Fox and Jim DeFrancia are on the verge of bringing forth an exciting new hotel project that is sure to please locals and visitors alike.  It's called Gorsuch Haus.  Imagine a new, small European-style hotel and second Ajax base area, finally, in the place where it all began.  To honor our ski racing heritage, Gorsuch Haus will revitalize and reactivate the historic portal to Ajax -- the 1A side of Aspen Mountain.  And notably, Gorsuch Haus won't be burdening the community with variance requests; housing will be provided on-site and mitigated in-town, and parking will be accommodated beneath the property itself.  The step-down architecture provides for many levels, none more than 49' in height.

Designed a north-south axis between the Mountain Queen and Shadow Mountain condos, the 75,000sf (above grade) hotel concept on 2 acres will offer 81 "keys" (61 rooms, 6 for sale condos and 7 additional lock-off rooms) in an "upside-down" format:  the public areas and apres ski deck are at the top, while the rooms step down the mountain.

The applications for Gorsuch Haus go in to the city any day now.  There are some land use hurdles to overcome, and serious questions of whether the 1A lift replacement can be moved further down the mountain are still to be sorted out.  (At press time, the Forest Service has approved SkiCo's request to replace 1A...) But this is a seminal opportunity for Aspen, not to mention our ski racing legacy.  And it's important to know the facts. 

We missed a chance several years ago to reinvigorate the 1A side of the mountain.  (Thanks, Mick.)  As a result, the upcoming 2017 FIS World Cup Finals in Aspen are in jeopardy.  Gorsuch Haus, if approved, won't be built in time for the race, but it will send an important and loud signal to the ski racing world (and governors) that Aspen values its ski racing history AND future.  It's rare when opportunities like this come around a second time.  I encourage you to familiarize yourselves with this project, its offerings and its challenges.  The more you know, I'm confident that you too will share my optimism and embrace this inspiring answer to "the 1A challenge."

Check it all out (including maps and renderings) HERE


I wasn't so clever this season, but in re-reading this popular reader favorite from 2012, it's amazing how relevant much of it still is!  Cheers!!  Click HERE

Poem or no poem, at this time of year, I'm reminded how grateful I am that you read what I write and for the valuable tips and feedback.  Keep 'em coming!


At The Red Ant

The fun never ends...

Merry Christmas to you,

Your family and friends!!


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