CARBONDALE — Before a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night, the town’s board of trustees agreed to make sure the public gets a second shot at reviewing the design of the Surls Center for Visual Art, a combined museum and gallery meant to house the works of internationally celebrated sculptor James Surls, who lives near Carbondale and who also has agreed to create a sculpture for a roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 133.
A public meeting held recently for that purpose was only sparsely attended, according to the architects working on the design.
The trustees, at a public hearing on rezoning the land underneath the building at the corner of 4th Street and Garfield Avenue, agreed to rezone the property to a higher-density category, and change it from residential to commercial.
The property has for nearly three decades been the home of the Gordon Cooper Library, a branch of the Garfield County Library system. The town and the Surls Center proponents are co-applicants, as the town owns the property and the proponents are raising money to build the new facility.
As proposed, the Center would include the existing 3,950 square-foot library, a 1,500 square-foot addition, and would be between 30 and 35 feet high, according to the architects. The board, after spending approximately three hours taking testimony and discussion about the proposed rezoning, voted unanimously to rezone the 13,000 square foot lot from residential/low density, which the neighborhood has been for years, to the HCC zoning category, or Historic Commercial Core. The rezoning means the building is no longer a “non-conforming use” in an otherwise residential neighborhood.
Many of those attending the meeting were there to argue against the use of the property as a museum/gallery, an argument that was resolved in May when the trustees conducted hearings on several proposed uses of the building and chose the Surls Center over a pre-school and a performing arts center.
But some were there over concerns that the rezoning could spell doom for the neighborhood along Garfield, from Third to Fourth streets.
Becky Young, a 37-year resident of that block, testified that she was concerned that the council might be setting a precedent that would ultimately convert the entire block into commercial properties.
“If you zone that parcel as commercial core, then is Yvan [Tache Jr., who lives next door to the old library] the next to be rezoned commercial core, and is my house next?” Young asked the trustees. “Are we all sitting ducks for commercial core?”
She said that neighborhoods “are actually the people that live in them, and have been living together in them for a long time.” She said that at one time the neighborhood had been zoned residential-medium density, which residents at the time felt was too high a density.
“We asked to be downzoned, historically,” she told the trustees, even though doing so meant their property would be worth less on the market.
Mayor Stacey Bernot assured Young and her neighbors that “the town isn’t going to just blindly rezone your property,” and that it is not a goal of the town to pull everything from Main Street to Sopris into the historic commercial core zone.
Bernot also cautioned the neighbors that a future council might have different ideas, however.
The neighbors also were concerned about parking for the new center, which architects John Baker and Ramsey Fulton predicted would bring thousands of sculpture-loving tourists into town every year.
Laurie Loeb, another Garfield Avenue long-timer, said she was worried about the elimination of the staff-parking spaces on the north side of the building, in the alley, to make way for a 1,500-square-foot addition to house sculptures that will not fit beneath the old library’s ceiling.
She and others also criticized the idea of putting in diagonal parking along the southern edge of the property, which is now a lawn bordering Garfield Avenue.
The architects both told the trustees that one idea is to lease or buy parking spaces off-site to meet the requirements of the town code, although the final decision about how to handle parking also has not yet been made.
Another point of concern was the design of the Surls Center, as it was called at the meeting.
Baker and Fulton told the trustees and the audience that the design had not been finalized yet, but showed a series of illustrations on an overhead projector that offered an idea of what the building might look like.
“There needs to be much more public review of the design,” said Barbara Dills of Carbondale, and the trustees agreed, calling on Baker and Fulton to set up a public meeting to show the finished design of the building to the neighbors and any other town residents who care to attend.
At the end of the hearing, the trustees voted unanimously to approve the zoning change to HCC, conditional upon final design approval by the board of trustees prior to issuance of a building permit, and other conditions.
“If you zone that parcel as commercial core, then is Yvan [Tache Jr., who lives next door to the old library] the next to be rezoned commercial core, and is my house next? Are we all sitting ducks for commercial core?”
Resident of the block