Editorial: Council on the right track with moratorium
March 21, 2016
Last week's City Council moratorium on downtown commercial development was a welcome surprise for many reasons, mostly because it signals that council members are listening to the electorate.
In the past couple of years alone, the council has faced criticism and challenges relating to downtown land use decisions. At times, it also has taken heat for not listening to the citizens and for a land-use plan that didn't entirely match up to the goals set forth in the Aspen Area Community Plan, a 2012 summary of residents' vision for the town.
With last week's emergency ordinance, which temporarily bans development applications for the city's commercial, service-commercial-industrial, neighborhood commercial and mixed-use zone districts, three applications were able to make it through the door before the ban took effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, including Mark Hunt's code-abiding plans for a commercial building at 232 W. Main St.
The council should be commended for ensuring the votes would be there before proposing the emergency ban. In 2012, another emergency ordinance aimed at downzoning the commercial-core district didn't gather enough votes, so a nonemergency ordinance passed as a result, which gave developers 30 days to rush at least 10 applications through before the ban took effect.
This time around, the council was better prepared and knew the proposal would pass — an important precaution given the precedent set in 2012.
With the ban in place through February, the council now has time to address its land-use code, something voters in this city have demanded for some time. While the community plan isn't legally binding, it reflects a collective vision for the future of Aspen, with thoughtful land use being one of the core priorities outlined in that document.
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It's time to applaud the City Council for taking a step back to align the city's code with the desires of its residents. The political climate in this city has soured over land-use issues in recent years. The right thing for the council to do is to listen to that collective concern and respond to it. This emergency ban would imply that the council is doing that — now the true test will be whether it can accomplish its goal of aligning the land-use code with the community plan in 2016.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of Publisher Samantha Johnston, Editor Lauren Glendenning, Managing Editor Rick Carroll and community members Bob Braudis and Kathryn Koch.