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Public invited to help envision Emma’s resurrection

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails wants to hear the public's thoughts on future use of the old Emma store on the right half of the building and the warehouse on the left. They were built in the 1890s.
Pitkin County OST/courtesy photo

There will be no brewery in Emma. Nor will there be a restaurant or slaughterhouse in the historic Emma store and warehouse.

A steering committee appointed by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is trying to figure out appropriate uses for the old buildings, which date to the 1890s. Now the public will get the opportunity to weigh in via an online survey.

“This is not an easy place to plan. It’s a tough one,” Open Space and Trails director Gary Tennenbaum said at a board of directors meeting last week.

One of the big challenges is the proximity to Highway 82. When planning was underway to expand the road to four lanes and reroute it out of downtown Basalt in 1988, the buildings were declared historically significant. While the buildings were spared the wrecking ball, the Colorado Department of Transportation shoehorned the road close to the buildings.

“A constant stream of vehicles speeds by the buildings at 65 miles per hour, passing only 20 feet from the entrance to the western building,” the steering committee’s draft report says.

The highway proximity threatened to rattle the buildings to bits. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails purchased the buildings and surrounding 12.5 acres in July 2008 for $2.65 million. Basalt was a partner in the deal. The buildings were stabilized but still need substantial work to make them usable.

The highway noise from within the buildings is “significant,” the report said. Snow and debris that is plowed from the road gets thrown toward the western building. The open space department installs a protective façade on the front each fall.

“This is not a long-term solution and regardless of the future use of the buildings, an improved barrier is needed,” the report said.

Limits on traffic generation also are a challenge for the site. There is an entrance to the complex of buildings on the north side of Highway 82 close to the Mather house, a Victorian structure that has been recently renovated by the open space program. The access cannot exceed 10 vehicles per hour, according to the State Highway Access Code. In addition, the Emma Caucus is “wary of adding more congestion at the intersection due to the safety concerns.”

That rules out intensive uses such as a brewpub or restaurant.

Despite the challenges, the buildings and surrounding property combine to create a magical site. It is a showcase for the agricultural and ranching history of Emma and a testament to present-day land conservation. The property is along the popular Emma biking and pedestrian trail.

“The buildings themselves are amazing historic assets, which deserve to be celebrated and preserved within the community,” the report said. “They have maintained historic integrity and are a truly unique community asset that does not exist elsewhere in the county.”

They could be built out to over 7,000 square feet of leasable space. The store and warehouse are connected. The store on the east is one story at 2,250 square feet. The warehouse on the west is two stories at 2,000 feet per level.

An odd little brick structure is located between the buildings and the Roaring Fork River. It has two levels at 294 square feet each. The report said there are several theories on its past uses.

“One theory is that it was used to house explosives separately from the store building,” the report said. “Another theory of the build’s prior use is a hop house for drying hops, or a brick barn, which (a prior owner) said he built on the property.”

The property also has ancient fruit trees, open space leading to the river and fabulous views of Capitol Peak.

The steering committee determined the potential future uses could include:

  • A community meeting room for education classes or book clubs, for example. Alternative transit would have to be arranged to make the option work.
  • Small-scale offices of incubator space with a potential mix of nonprofit and for-profit uses.
  • An artists’ co-op, a place to learn heritage arts and live-work space for artists.
  • Agricultural-related community uses for classes, dinners, product processing (no meat) and limited farm product sales.
  • A museum related to farming and ranching, though the committee didn’t want the entire facility to go that route.
  • A trail hub with a restroom, water station and shelter.
  • A small-scale retail operation in conjunction with other uses.
  • Housing as an accessory use, potentially for artists and agriculture workers.

A public survey will be held to gauge thoughts on those ideas and invite other proposals. The open space staff is hopeful many people will weigh in.

“Everybody drives by those buildings thinking what they can be,” said Lindsey Utter, outreach and planning manager for the open space program.

A survey link will be open through Oct. 9 at pitkinostprojects.com.

The site also provides an overview of the buildings and the property along with a video tour.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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