Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jewish Community Center sees silver lining in ranch

Aspen City Council is set to decide an application on Monday that would see the Jewish Resource Center Chabad of Aspen make its new home at the Silver Lining Ranch in east Aspen.

The application would add a 700-square-foot accessory dwelling unit residence, improve driveway and circulation access and add 10 parking spaces to the property at the end of Ute Avenue, which from 1999 through 2007 served as a getaway for children with cancer and other serious illness.

The existing 15,000-square-foot building would not be changed, save for the relocation of some interior walls to convert some of the downstairs space into preschool classrooms that would serve between 35 and 45 children each day.

In 2006, Aspen Chabad had received land-use approval, and had began the permit process, to build a new Jewish community center on Main Street. The 35,000-square-foot facility would have taken over the block where the L’Auberge D’Aspen rental cabins now sit.

Rabbi Mendel Mintz said he changed course when the ranch became available, because its gorgeous, wide-open setting seemed more fitting for a spiritual institution where a children’s day care center would be a major component. The congregation, one of two major Jewish organizations in Aspen, serves about 100 local families, Mintz said.

“Look at this,” Mintz said, motioning to the dramatic Independence Pass view. “Why should we be on Main Street?”

Not everyone thinks the relocation is a great idea, as the city has been fielding letters from neighbors, some of whom live across the Roaring Fork River in the Stillwater subdivision, who oppose the change in use plan.

One letter from an across-the-river homeowner states the homeowner’s belief that the Jewish community center would bring a high-intensity use to the ranch and would degrade the natural setting. Others who live along Ute Avenue have voiced concerns about traffic impacts the center would add to the street.

Mintz said he sees the traffic concerns as legitimate, and that Monday’s presentation to the council will include details on how the center will use vans and carpooling to reduce traffic to the center, which will have just 20 parking spaces. As far as neighbors across the river who are complaining, the rabbi said he was perplexed as to how some homeowners, the closest of whom is 700 feet away, could be troubled by the thought of more children running around the ranch’s 6-acre property.

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