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Residents oppose rezoning library to suit Surls museum

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Residents oppose rezoning library to suit Surls museum

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Sopris Sun Staff Report

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When the proposal to build a museum curated by and featuring the art of sculptor James Surls goes in front of the Town Trustees on Oct. 8, it will likely face opposition from neighbors. 

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The trustees will be deciding whether to rezone the site of the old library, on Fourth Street between Main and Garfield, from Residential/Low Density to Historic Commercial Core. 

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“I think it would be a grave mistake for the town to rezone the property to HCC without any conditions,” says Laurie Loeb, a resident of Third Street and opponent of the project. 

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She is urging the town to add conditions that protect the transitional character of the property, between Main Street, which is mostly commercial, and Garfield Avenue, which is mostly residential. 

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The land in question is owned by the town, which leased it to the library district for 29 years for the Gordon Cooper Library. With the new library down the street opening over the summer, the trustees last spring voted 6-1 to lease the building and land for the Surls Center for Visual Art. The main contacts have been philanthropist Jim Calaway and architect John Baker.

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The decision to go with the Surls Center came after a Request For Proposals was published last winter and three groups submitted plans. 

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Baker, who is designing the addition, points out that the property has housed  a lumber yard and more recently the library, both of which create significant activity in the neighborhood. 

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“I know the people living on Garfield are opposed to changing the zoning, but the lot has been used for commercial purposes in one capacity or another for more than three decades,” Baker said.

Surls Center backers include the Carbondale Center for Arts and Humanities (CCAH), and a large contingent of the downtown business community. CCAH sees the museum as an opportunity to work with a renown sculptor to promote local artists and Carbondale as an artistic haven. Many in the business community see it as a way to boost activity in the downtown core. 

Designs submitted to the town indicate the Surls Center would nearly double the size of the Gordon Cooper building, from 3,950 square feet currently to 7,565 square feet with an addition of that appears to be corrugated steel that wraps around the south and east sides of the existing wood and brick building. 

The expanded building would run right up to the lot lines along the alley between Garfield and Main, and along Fourth Street. The plan calls for preservation of a 12.5-foot setback on the east side, where the residential neighborhood begins, and 30 feet on the north side of the building along Garfield Avenue, also in the residential portion. 

The Surls Center ran into neighborhood opposition over a proposed variance from the parking requirements for development in the HCC zone. Under the code, they would normally be required to provide six off-street parking spots. Instead, they asked to create six diagonal or front-in parking spots within the right of way on Garfield. 

Baker says the parking plans have been changed, with plans to seek a payment in lieu of onsite parking. 

In addition to the parking issue, a letter submitted to the P&Z signed by residents along Garfield raises issue with the effects of the proposed addition on a number of fronts:

• mass and scale allowed under HCC zoning (lot line-to lot line and up to 35 feet in height) is out of character with the neighboring residential zone district along Garfield Street;

• the proposed design does not meet the HCC zone requirement that it follow turn of century design character.

The Planning and Zoning Commission last month unanimously recommended the proposed rezoning.

Last Tuesday, Loeb said she has 19 signatures on a similarly worded letter opposing the museum design that will be submitted to the trustees. 

“People are very put off by this design,” Loeb says. “A museum should pay more attention to design — so that it respects the historical buildings and neighborhood that surrounds it.”

Baker says that while the renderings are representative of what is planned, they are not final. He said the materials and colors will likely be adjusted to maximize compatibility with the neighborhood.