The Aspen City Council unanimously repealed the newly passed lodge-incentive program Tuesday, meaning it is no longer subject to a potential referendum.
The council passed the ordinance — which would allow four-story lodges near Aspen Mountain, larger free-market residences, fee waivers 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.
Last week, Aspen attorneys Cavanaugh O’Leary and Bert Myrin launched a petition drive to bring the issue to voters, garnering about 500 of the 641 required signatures in a 48-hour period.
During Tuesday’s meeting, continued from the prior night, council members were in unanimous agreement that the city should start from scratch with the controversial package and attempt to make it more attractive to the community.
Councilman Adam Frisch, who claimed the petition was more about proving a political point than it was about solving a problem Monday, said he stood by his comments in “calmer and slower terms.”
“I think we will be back at our table with an ordinance that will not fly by the community, whether good or bad,” he said. “I want to start tackling the problems right away.”
Councilwoman Ann Mullins initially expressed interest in reconsidering the ordinance as approved rather than starting from scratch. She asked her fellow council members why they can’t work on the original package.
“You can,” Councilman Dwayne Romero responded, “but you’re going to then lead toward a referral vote,” which won’t give the city any additional feedback and will serve as a “black hole” or “scar tissue” in the middle of the process.
Skadron said a denial of the ordinance, rather than a reconsideration, gives greater community benefit, as the city and the public can calm down and back away from previous council action that led to approval of the new Aspen Art Museum. He added that voting in favor of denial would be consistent with his and Mullins’ dissenting votes on Aug. 11.
After the meeting, Myrin expressed “zero” confidence that the city will rework the package into something attractive to the community. He speculated that when the council passed the original ordinance on Aug. 11, it began holding its breath.
“How could five politicians be that out of touch with the community?” he asked.
Myrin said his concern is that a new lodge-incentive package will come back to the council broken up, meaning the potential for multiple ordinances — and multiple battles. O’Leary worried they might not have the resources to referendum a handful of controversial issues.
“Little pieces is exactly how infill got passed,” Myrin said, referring to the controversial package of zoning amendments passed in 2005. “I told them I was going to do a referendum on (infill), so instead, they broke it into little pieces.”
Without lodge action from the original ordinance, Frisch said developers will now be able to request 10 stories near Aspen Mountain instead of four.
“If that’s the way we want to go, that’s the way we should go,” he said.
Romero noted he still believes existing lodging in Aspen deserves upgrades, renewal and modernization through an incentive package. Frisch said he hopes incentives for Aspen’s endangered midpriced lodging is not dragged down by the height issue. And if residents want to discuss fee waivers or affordable-housing concerns, he encouraged them to speak up at future public meetings.
“I just want to light the fire of thinking and positively reflect,” Frisch said. “If there’s a group of people who want to make sure that their voices are heard, and they can rally around something and it’s somewhat specific, it’s much easier to have a discussion.”
Skadron said he doesn’t disagree with Frisch about defining the problems and coming up with a new ordinance. He added that his desire is to focus on Aspen’s “property-rich, paycheck-poor” small-lodge owners.
“As we work through this lodge ordinance, my desire is to focus on that category of product” and less on the more controversial components, he said.