Aspen City Council members agree that local developers — within the current approval process — are bogged down by unnecessary challenges. A lot of time and effort is put into providing architectural detail, well before the developer even knows whether the council and community support the project.
Councilman Dwayne Romero, at Monday’s City Council meeting, said the Aspen Club & Spa project is a good example of how sluggish the process can be: Conceptual review — the second of three steps to approval — lasted one City Council meeting, while final review lasted about a dozen.
In line with the city of Aspen’s top 10 goals, city bureaucrats have recommended that the council make the conceptual stage binding, so developers can know early on if their project has legs. Right now, controversial details — such as mass, scale and land use of a building — are not ironed out until final review. The amended process would move those up, leaving only exterior details — like materials and utilities — for final review. Approval of the amendments is scheduled for Oct. 28.
While Mayor Steve Skadron said a front-loaded process is a healthy one, he still believes that a degree of scrutiny — from the public and the City Council — is lost with the amendments.
“I am more comfortable with the current process than what is being proposed,” he said, citing concerns from Aspen Planning and Zoning Committee member and local activist Bert Myrin, who was part of the group that halted the hydroelectric-plant proposal in Aspen.
On Friday, Myrin said that more often than not, the public doesn’t show its opposition until the end, when approval of an unfavorable project is imminent. If the major issues are moved up to the middle of the process, people are more likely to overlook them, he said.
At a meeting Sept. 23, Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon suggested changing the term “conceptual review” to something that’s less likely to let the public “hit the snooze button.” In response, Romero said it appears the city has a “truckload” of education and public outreach ahead.
Myrin also has argued that it’s the responsibility of elected officials to work through the bureaucratic process and that the public only steps in when something “goes astray.” Conceptual review, he said, allows the developer and the city to work out details, allowing the public to see the entire picture at final review. With the amendments, he said, the public will be able to review only mass and scale, while it loses its say on exterior materials. For Myrin, there is no development project so important that public review should be compromised just to streamline the process.
“Someone will wreck Aspen down the road. We don’t need to do it right now,” Myrin said.
Also Sept. 23, Councilwoman Ann Mullins said the current process is unfair to developers. Council member Adam Frisch agreed, saying he is comfortable with the front-loaded discussion.