Myrin, Skadron spar over Community Development
January 13, 2016
Bert Myrin's plea to fellow Aspen City Council members to wield influence over the hiring of the next director of the Community Development Department met sharp defense from Mayor Steve Skadron at a meeting Monday.
Myrin called on the council to entertain the idea of amending the Home Rule Charter so that the City Council delivers the final hiring approval for the next director of the Community Development Department. The council assumes that responsibility for the city clerk and finance director, Myrin said. Community Development should be no different, he argued.
"We, as council, should be accountable for land use, especially, at least, as we are accountable for the city clerk and director of finance," Myrin said, adding, "It's a great political position to not be accountable. But that's not where I want to be."
Skadron blasted Myrin for his remarks, accusing him of promoting "nonsense" and "holding us hostage to this position."
"It would be a professional courtesy to meet with your fellow council members prior to a public meeting and unloading on us," Skadron said.
Myrin countered that two-thirds of the community are in his corner — as evidenced by recent public votes — and the council has made a habit of "circling the wagons" with development.
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Myrin's remarks came as City Hall seeks a new director to replace Chris Bendon, who resigned last month to start a planning firm with Sara Adams, who also stepped down as the city's senior planner.
Bendon's exit came after a May election that saw the passage of Referendum 1, which eliminates the council's ability to grant variances to downtown commercial land-use applications for height, mass, parking and affordable housing without a public vote.
Aspen's contentious development climate also saw two-thirds of the electorate in the November elections shoot down developer Mark Hunt's Base2 Lodge, which would have been erected on the corner of East Main Street now occupied by a Conoco service station.
Myrin's suggestion would require an amendment to the Home Rule Charter, which can only be done through a public vote, such as Referendum 1.
Myrin said he would support it going to a vote in the November elections. By that time, the city will have hired a new Community Development director. But Myrin said he would like to see the precedent set for selecting future directors of the department.
Meanwhile, a non-legally binding petition drive has been underway for a citizens' committee to be selected to interview applicants for the vacancy. City Manager Steve Barwick has maintained that both the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation boards already interview applicants, and a citizens' committee isn't necessary.
The opening hasn't attracted as many applicants as Barwick had hoped for, so he has expanded the application window through the next three weeks. It was scheduled to end this week, he said.
"I have no problems with a charter amendment that would be similar to adding one more title to the clerk and finance director," he said. "If you want to do that, great. Take it to the voters."
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said the Community Development Department simply follows the land-use code. It's the City Council, she and Adam Frisch noted, that votes on the land-use applications.
"Chris (Bendon) never voted on anything," she said. "He simply implemented what is in the land-use code."
Several Aspen residents spoke about the Community Development petition. Some implored residents not to sign it. As of Monday night, the petition had 107 signatures, according to activist Maurice Emmer, although not all of them belonged to residents of Aspen.
"I think that it's a much better idea to have the professionals that are doing the job of city government, including those tasks of hiring of individuals and right on down the line," Peter Fornell told the council, noting the petitions undermine the council's job. "I really encourage people not to just sign every petition they see."
Marcia Goshorn, however, said that City Council empowered Community Development last year to "fast-track" land-use approvals.
"Whomever you eventually hire, you need to realize it's a historic community first," she said. "Wanting it to look like New York or Chicago, an industrial-looking building, isn't something to our benefit."