With opposition to Aspen’s lodge-incentive program mounting Monday, the Aspen City Council appeared ready to reconsider the newly passed legislation before it faces the potential for a public vote.
The council passed the ordinance — which would allow four-story lodges near Aspen Mountain, larger free-market residences and decreased affordable-housing requirements, among other incentives for developers — on Aug. 11 by a 3-2 margin. Councilmen Art Daily, Adam Frisch and Dwayne Romero voted in favor of the ordinance, while Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilwoman Ann Mullins cast dissenting votes.
Aspen attorneys Cavanaugh O’Leary and Bert Myrin have since launched a petition drive to bring the issue to voters, and on Monday, O’Leary announced unofficial numbers showing they have about 400 of the 641 signatures required by Sept. 5.
Councilmen Daily, Frisch and Romero were all of the opinion that the ordinance would be shot down if it were subjected to a vote. Both Daily and Romero said they were willing to reconsider their decision so that the legislation can be reworked and made more attractive to the community.
In a contentious exchange with O’Leary and Myrin, Frisch said that the next few months would be a “touchdown dance around City Hall” for the opposition, echoing doubt that the program would hold up in a vote.
“You smell blood, and you’ve won,” Frisch said, claiming that the petition is more about proving a political point than it is about solving a problem. “You’d rather spend four or five months stirring the pot, having fun, getting the votes out and throwing it in there. So why not take the win, smile, say thank you to the people who signed the petition and start the dialogue about what needs to happen to get community buy-in?”
Whether the ballot question is about shooting down potential for 60-foot buildings in Aspen or “hugging a turtle,” Frisch said the opposition would get at least 60 percent support. He also called the move an attempt to even the score from the results of infill, a controversial package of zoning amendments passed in 2005.
The council is expected to take an official vote today when the meeting continues. In addition to reconsideration of the ordinance, the council has the option to send the legislation to the November ballot as written.
O’Leary responded that the petition is not about rubbing salt in City Hall’s wounds, saying he took offense to Frisch’s comments.
“I don’t know that this is going to win,” O’Leary said. “I don’t think this has to be acrimonious. I would like to see it go to a vote because this is what the people need to speak to. This is a big issue.”
Frisch said public opposition at the polls might surpass support for Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado. He called the petition a home-run issue and asked what’s wrong with avoiding a vote and starting the dialogue now.
Myrin expressed distrust with the public process that brought the program to approval, saying that if the city doesn’t allow a vote, it’s stealing from its residents.
Skadron questioned the intent of Myrin and O’Leary, saying he doesn’t see an attempt on their part to fix the ordinance, while Romero accused the duo of wanting a “main-event, acrimonious election.”
Daily agreed that the ordinance should be revisited before it gets thrown away in an election.
“Let’s try to rebalance this before we send it out to a vote,” Daily said. “I have no desire to stand in the way of the community voting on the issue, but can we get to a better place, quick, in a different way? I think we can.”
Admitting that it’s “pretty clear (the council) failed in the public process,” Mullins said officials focused too much on input from lodging experts and not enough on other groups. She regarded the issue as black and white, and if it goes to a vote, there will be many unhappy residents on one side. She closed by encouraging council members who supported approval to reconsider their vote.
Romero appeared ready to accept Mullins’ suggestion, but Skadron called to resume the discussion today.