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Aspen Times Roses and Thorns (April 5, 2019)

• Roses and thorns to Aspen Skiing Co. for its latest developments with the Ikon Pass. First, roses for extending the Ikon Base Pass to Aspen Skiing Co. customers who shell out big bucks to purchase a Premier Pass. That’s a nice added value.

However, we’re also giving Skico thorns for not acting quick enough to resolve an obvious problem with longer lift lines. Yes, we realize Skico says a big portion of the lines is due to more locals using their season passes more often, but it is obvious that big numbers of Ikoneers are hitting the Aspen-Snowmass slopes as well on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. Skico should have acted quicker to apply blackout days that apply to the Ikon Base Pass to the Ikon Pass as well — at least during Christmas-New Year’s, Martin Luther King Weekend and Presidents Day weekend.

• Roses to the people who help make the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic a success. It’s such an uplifting and inspiring week here in the Roaring Fork Valley and makes a positive impact not only on those who attend but also on everyone who gets to meet the veterans and volunteers and see them in action. From the crew at the Aspen Elks Lodge to all those around Snowmass and the valley, the event continues to grow each year and the volunteers make the vets feel comfortable and welcomed.

• A rare thorn to Pitkin County Trails and Open Space for plans to further reroute the Skyline Ridge Trail. For some reason, the open space program is determined to remove all the steep, short (and fun) hills from Skyline Ridge. This summer it has enlisted help on volunteer nights to reroute the trail off the hill right below the Deadline-Viewline intersection. We understand that some of the earlier rerouting might have been necessary to eliminate a rutted double track. The rerouting last summer and this summer appear less about sustainability and more about creating a consistent trail system. We fear it will only invite more use to a system already overtaxed at times.

• Roses to Aspen Skiing Co. for boosting the first weekend of April with bands Umphree’s McGee and The String Cheese Incident. It the perfect response to the Winter X Games hip-hop/EDM scene, and this weekend’s lineup will provide a healthy dose of talented musicians hard at work. Hope to see you out there — the more folks who show up will give Skico plenty of reasons to bring The Apres back next year.

• Thorn to the bus driver on a recent full bus that was about to leave Rubey Park. As people were filling the Monday night bus, he first asked for people to give up their seats for kids. OK, that’s great. But then a few seconds later added: “And all you locals give up your seats to the visitors who pay our bills.”

Now, there are a few ways you can go with that. Many of us appreciate and talk to visitors while on the bus. But remember, Mr. Bus Driver, there are a lot of us locals who approved a new property tax to help the transportation system. Where’s our love?

• Roses to Torre for finally winning the mayor’s seat after multiple times falling short. Whatever one thinks about Torre — clearly the majority of Aspen voters approve of him — one has to tip their hat to him for his tenacity, resilience and refusal to not give up.

Aspen Times Editorial: Torre’s passion good fit for Aspen’s next mayor

Aspen voters will have the final say Tuesday on our city’s next mayor. The Aspen Times’ editorial board is reiterating our support of Torre.

Tuesday’s runoff election between Ann Mullins and Torre came after neither garnered the 50 percent plus one votes to win the seat outright in the March 5 municipal election.

In our mayoral endorsement prior to that election, The Times’ editorial board put our support behind Torre. During the runoff process the past month, Torre has continued to show his focus, determination and commitment to leading the council in a direction that will encourage more dialogue with residents and business owners, but not drag its feet.

As we stated in our Feb. 20 endorsement, we feel Torre shows the qualities City Council needs in its next mayor — he speaks with clarity, is prepared and engaged in discussion, has a clear vision, is open-minded and has a willingness to listen before making a decision. He is respectful but to the point and doesn’t want to waste time on unnecessary discussions.

His passion continues in his sixth attempt to earn the mayor’s seat on the City Council, and we look forward to him working with Mullins, who has two years remaining in her current seat on council.

In the March election, Torre picked up 1,281 votes to Mullins’ 940. At issue are the roughly 900 votes that went to the other two candidates, Adam Frisch and Cale Mitchell.

If Mullins is elected mayor, she has said she will consider how to fill her vacancy, which includes another election or appointing someone. We don’t think Aspen has the time nor the appetite for another election. We need our city government to get to work. If Torre wins, then the two candidates will have two years to work together and keep each other in check.

At forums held in the past month, Torre has continued to stay on point and clearly articulate where he stands on issues, and most importantly why. He is showing he is ready to take action and be aggressive on decision-making.

We again urge Aspen voters to get to the ballot box by 7 p.m. on Tuesday and to give Torre the opportunity for the next two years to use his skills and passion to advance the ideals of the community, which include slow growth, protecting quality of life and environmental stewardship.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times Roses and Thorns (March 8, 2019)

Thorns go to two female associates of Aspen City Councilman-elect Skippy Mesirow, who were caught vaping inside City Hall on election night.

Smoke was billowing from the room where the copier is located in plain sight of the public. Come on, girls, have some respect for the rest of us. Aspen City Hall is not yours and yours alone, remember that.

A thorn goes to RFTA for completely ignoring any sort of schedule or route for the Galena Street Shuttle. One particular driver, Raphael, refuses to adhere to the schedule, so no one knows how long it’s going to be for a pickup. Other drivers say they have complained to management, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Can you hear us now?

A rose goes to all the candidates who ran for elected office in the recent city election. Aspiring to land a thankless job takes grit, courage and patience. Congratulations to everyone who came out on the good side of the election results and to those who lost, your efforts are appreciated.

Thorns to the people who thought it a good idea to plaster their campaign propaganda on public and private property. Regardless of the issue or the position people have on an issue, being a decent human who doesn’t vandalize someone else’s property is more important than how you vote.

Roses to the lifties working the Alpine Springs lines last weekend at Snowmass. With the corrals getting full and the singles line going up the hill, the traffic cop was stopping the big groups and sending through four singles at a time to make their own chair and move along the singles line. We solo riders appreciate it. And more roses, for the umpteenth time this season, to the mountain operations folks at Aspen Skiing Co. In just two examples of the great jobs they have been doing this year, the Silver Queen Gondola started spinning 11 minutes early on a great, bountiful powder day on Sunday due to the patrol and other mountain operations folks getting the mountain ready to roll quickly. On that same day, the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol put in a Herculean effort to get 100 percent of Highland Bowl open that morning.

Bouquets of roses and a well-deserved thanks go to two long-term public servants who recently retired from their offices.

Lorie Crawford retired earlier this winter from the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s office after more than 30 years of service. She was the longtime El Jebel branch office manager.

Jim Wilson retired this month as the chief building official for the town of Basalt, where he had worked for about 17 years. Wilson also worked for the Aspen-Pitkin County Building Department for several years previously.

Thorns to Mariner Real Estate Management, now known as Platform Ventures, for giving The Temporary the early boot from Willits Town Center. The move might make dollars but it doesn’t make sense.

The Temporary, the midvalley venue for music, comedy, theater, etc., was told it would have to depart before its lease is up later this year because Mariner had a party interested in a long-term lease at market rent. The lease between the landlord and tenant allowed either party to break the lease early during the second year. So, The Temporary must vacate the premises across from Capitol Brew Pub in early May. While the move is legal, it would have behooved Mariner, the business owners and operators at Willits and the entire midvalley if The Temporary had been allowed to stay longer. The Temporary is an integral part of Willits Town Center’s success.

Aspen Times Editorial: Lift One ballot question carries too much baggage

There is a classic scene in the Monty Python movie “The Meaning of Life” where a very large man shovels in a very large meal at a restaurant. Upon finishing his meal, the waiter tempts him with dessert. The fat man initially resists but gives in when the waiter teases that it is just a wafer thin mint. The fat man eats it and promptly explodes from overindulgence.

Aspen, we fear, faces the predicament of the fat man with the Lift One Corridor Plan.

City voters will be asked March 5 to cast ballots on a multi-faceted proposal that would add 320,000 square feet of development at and around the base of Lift 1A. The proposal includes the Lift One Lodge with 34 fractional ownership and six full-ownership units in 107,000 square feet and the Gorsuch Haus at 81 hotel rooms in a 64,000-square-foot building. Combined, they would bring 185 keys to Aspen’s lodging inventory. Both facilities will include bars and restaurants open to the public.

The plan also would bring a replacement for Lift 1A downhill another 500 feet to make it accessible from Dean Street. The Skiers Chalet would be resurrected as a ski museum to showcase Aspen’s rich skiing heritage. There would be parks and open space comparable in size to Wagner Park.

The Aspen Times editorial board urges a “no” vote on the question. It is our fundamental belief that Aspen must do more to address its shortage of affordable housing. It’s a belief we share with many residents.

We realize the plan provides benefits such as revitalization of the west side of the mountain and a lift that comes farther into town, but the costs associated with the project as proposed outweigh the benefits. This plan is no wafer thin mint.

Everyone who lives in, works at and visits Aspen realizes the two-headed monster of traffic congestion and lack of affordable housing bedevils the town. The Lift One Corridor Plan would add to those problems.

The developers of both properties are using a provision of the city land-use code that allows for less employee housing mitigation to coax development of high-density tourist lodging. Lift One Lodge will generate an estimated need for 100 employees while Gorsuch Haus will require between 65 and 80, representatives of the developers have said. Combined, they are providing housing for 67 workers. That leaves a shortfall of housing for between 98 and 113 employees.

City officials have said easing the affordable-housing mitigation was discretionary and didn’t have to be granted. It was a flaw on the city’s part to reduce the amount of housing developers were required to provide.

The developers point out that the projects will raise an estimated $42 million in housing sales tax revenue and real estate transfer assessment fees over the next 30 years — more than enough to offset that deficit of housing for 113 employees. But those funds are a long-term solution to an immediate problem.

The final draft of a housing needs assessment for the Roaring Fork Valley region was released earlier this month. In 2017, “unmet demand for approximately 3,000 housing units was being generated in Aspen and Snowmass Village,” the study said. The housing deficit is expected to increase to 3,400 units by 2027, according to the study.

As a result, Aspen and Snowmass Village currently import 7,500 workers per day from locations farther downvalley, the study said. Adding 180 employees and housing 67 of them in Aspen creates a greater strain on the valley’s transit system. Hopefully some of those workers would ride the bus. But past studies of commuting practices show that some of those employees will drive.

We realize that development of some sort will occur at the Lift One base and that construction traffic comes with the territory. However, the project as proposed would generate nearly 11,000 dump truck trips just for the earth-moving portion of construction, according to the city staff. Given Aspen’s ongoing traffic issues, we believe the community would benefit from a scaled back project and an enforceable plan by the city to mitigate that construction traffic as much as possible.

Once completed, the project would add to Aspen’s traffic congestion to some degree through guests arriving and departing the hotels rooms and condos. That also comes with the territory when there are 185 keys for tourist accommodations. While the developers might make every effort to encourage guests to use shuttles between the airport and the properties, for example, they also realize a sizable number of people will drive. The developers are building a parking garage with 182 spaces for their use along with 50 spaces for public use.

Nearly all of Aspen’s elected officials and many voters bemoan too much traffic and too little affordable housing. The city has a responsibility to address those problems through its own actions and through its requirements for development. It cannot continue approving projects like the Lift One Corridor Plan without making progress on housing and traffic. A good start would be for the city to eliminate the provision that allows less housing mitigation for new lodges of the type proposed with this project.

If voters reject the ballot question, we would want to see a scaled-down project that creates more affordable housing and less traffic.

Lift One Lodge will revert to its 2011 approvals, which includes a design that won’t allow the Lift 1A replacement to extend downhill. That prior approval requires the lodge to provide housing for all employees. Lift One Lodge would have to be underway with construction by 2021 because its approvals are vested for 10 years.

The team behind Gorsuch Haus said they would be back to square one with their proposal if there is a “no” vote March 5. We believe a smaller hotel would be appropriate for the site and that the reworked project should provide housing for more of its employees.

We acknowledge that a “no” vote results in a less desirable alternative for the replacement of Lift 1A. The lower terminal would remain at about the same elevation it is today rather than 500 feet farther downslope. However, we don’t believe securing the lift down at Dean Street is worth approving these two large properties as proposed, with so little housing mitigation.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times Editorial: Torre is best choice for Aspen’s mayoral seat

In recent years, Aspen City Council has been struggling with communication and solid decision-making and needs a strong leader with conviction and focus.

That’s why we urge voters to vote for Torre, an outsider at the moment but no stranger to Aspen politics as a former councilman for eight years.

Two of the four candidates for mayor have been on the City Council for six and eight years and have contributed to the current council’s troubles, which include a lack of outreach to the community, missteps that led to the staffing upheaval in the City Manager’s Office and what has become a divisive group.

Ann Mullins is in her second four-year term on council, and if not elected as mayor she will remain on council to finish out the final two years of her term.

Adam Frisch is term-limited after eight consecutive years on council, and during his campaign for mayor has spent a lot of time reflecting on the issues where the current council has failed and has vowed to change.

Cale Mitchell is a political newcomer who tried to run for mayor in 2017 but was disqualified because he had not lived within city limits for at least one year. He has no political background and limited business experience.

Torre served two terms on City Council and has run for mayor and lost five times before (2001, 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2015) and lost in the 2017 council race.

As his campaign motto suggests, it’s time for Torre to steer the ship. We have confidence he is the individual who can get things done in a two-year term, including taking the city to a citywide composting. In the past month, The Aspen Times editorial board met with all the candidates running for Aspen City Council as well as attended or hosted forums.

We have endorsed Linda Manning and Rachel Richards to be fresh faces on City Council, and in another move to revamp an ineffective board, we suggest Aspen voters elect Torre as mayor.

Torre’s campaign the past month has included the phrases “We can do better” and “No more initiatives to nowhere.” We believe Torre’s focused leadership and fiery attitude will help him achieve those goals.

Torre has said being on council for eight years and watching from the sidelines the past six years gives him the best perspective to be an effective mayor. We agree.

His critics say he only shows up around City Hall when there is an election. We feel that is an unfair assessment — he has been at council meetings, he attends numerous community events and as a downtown resident, he is immersed in Aspen life and is connected to residents and guests.

He also has been working behind the scenes with staff on composting ideas, as well as other environmentally minded initiatives — something that has been absent in the campaigns of other candidates.

His tenacity is evident in his repeated attempts to earn the vote to represent Aspen as its mayor. Torre’s previous work on council showed initiative to get things done. He had clear priorities and was not afraid to be on the unpopular side of a vote.

Torre is the only mayoral candidate against the Lift One Corridor Plan, which also is on the March 5 ballot, and will be a voice for smart growth. He supports redevelopment in the area but not as proposed with a taxpayer contribution, minimal employee-housing mitigation and a rezoning of land.

He respects Aspen Area Community Plan’s slow-growth philosophy. He pushed for employee-housing action, not just words and can-kicking. On his first term on council, Torre was the deciding “yes” vote for the Burlingame Ranch housing development that is now home to hundreds of people across from Buttermilk.

Torre’s passion for environmental issues led to the ban on plastic bags, which became a national movement, and he helped start the Rio Grande recycling center. He is especially interested in saving the center as Pitkin County is ending its financial partnership this year.

This newspaper endorsed Torre in 2013 when he ran for mayor (and lost to the man he is seeking to replace, Steve Skadron). And we endorsed him in his failed 2017 attempt to return to City Council (he lost by 29 votes in a runoff).

We feel Torre continues to show the qualities City Council needs in its next mayor — he speaks with clarity, is prepared and engaged in discussion, has a clear vision, is open-minded and has a willingness to listen before making a decision. He is respectful but to the point and doesn’t want to waste time on unnecessary discussions.

These characteristics will help City Council return to making smart decisions and keep the town’s best interests at the front of their decision-making. We urge Aspen voters to give Torre the opportunity for the next two years to use his skills and passion to advance the ideals of the community, which include slow growth, protecting quality of life and environmental stewardship.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times Editorial: Rachel Richards, Linda Manning are best choices for City Council seats

Aspen voters might feel like they are in the midst of a crash course learning about the four candidates for the two open City Council seats because the election will be held March 5 — two months earlier than the traditional early May date.

Even so, this election has four candidates who are no strangers to political wonks or everyday residents because of their involvement in local politics.

City Clerk Linda Manning has been the most removed from Aspen politics because of a job that demands her neutrality, but she also has been closely connected because of her work duties that have ranged from preparing agendas for City Council meetings to being the gatekeeper of business licenses.

Skippy Mesirow has served three terms as chairman of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission and two terms as chair of NextGen, an organization comprised of 18- to 40-year-olds and serves as an advisory group to City Council about issues young residents face.

Bert Myrin is running for re-election to what would be his second and final four-year term on the council, having previously sat on P&Z and been an activist and organizer of referendums and petitions.

Rachel Richards is a former Aspen mayor and councilwoman and most recently a Pitkin County commissioner, a position she exited at the beginning of this year because of term limits.

Members of The Aspen Times editorial board met with all four candidates over the past month and attended other campaign events, including Squirm Night, which was sponsored by the local media.

We are asking voters to select Manning and Richards, two candidates who might not share the same ZIP code on the political spectrum, but also two candidates who can bring separate but clear mindsets to a council that, as a whole, has been fractured, ineffective and unclear about its objectives.

Richards, 58, will bring to council a record and blue-collar work ethic that have benefited the Aspen community and the Roaring Fork Valley for decades.

As a councilwoman, she was behind the city’s purchase of both the Yellow Brick and Red Brick schoolhouses, the former that serves as a daycare facility and the latter that functions as an arts and recreation building. She also played a key role in the city’s purchase of Aspen Country Inn for senior housing as well as its creation of seasonal housing at Burlingame by Highway 82 and the full-time housing at Burlingame Ranch. With an eye toward both the environment and tourism, Richards also championed the city’s lodging tax, the half-penny sales tax for open space and trails, and the one-tenth of a penny sales tax for the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund.

Richards also is studied in the water wars taking place and has shown she will fight for Aspen and the Western Slope. On the campaign trail she said the city needs to be proactive and involved in helping lower health insurance premiums for local residents, an initiative that might sound lofty for her position. Richards, however, understands that politics is local, and starting the conversation here is the first step to gain traction on a state and national level.

Richards’ critics, and she has a few, call her a career politician. We, however, consider her a devoted servant of the people who puts their best interests first.

We like Manning because she will bring a fresh if not unseen perspective at the council level.

This council needs balance and perspective, another reason we are endorsing Manning. As city clerk, Manning is on the front lines with Aspen businesses that have felt scorched by the city’s seemingly meddlesome approach to their affairs — whether it is trying to have outdoor dining or putting up a new sign.

Manning understands how crucial it is for businesses to gain any edge they can, and her platform — such as proposing fast-tracking building-permit applications by charging a fee — reflects that. At first blush that might seem like an elitist idea, but the same thing is done by the TSA or on express-lane highways, for example. If some business can get their work done in a quicker fashion because of this proposal, so long as the nonpayers don’t have to wait even longer, we are open to considering this idea.

As a city employee, Manning will bring a perspective to a City Council, which will give her a unique approach to decision-making.

We also are impressed by Manning’s strong organizational skills as demonstrated by her steady hand as city clerk, a role that includes overseeing municipal elections (but not this one), taking minutes at council meetings, or helping facilitate an open-records request.

While she has no political record to run on, we expect her learning curve on City Council — and it can be long — to be a short one because of the hundreds of council meetings and work sessions she already has attended. As well, we expect Manning to deliver on her pledge to have a role in making council meetings more focused and concise.

We like the idea of Rachel Richards and Linda Manning on the same board. Both of them are respectful and act professionally. Their temperaments make them approachable, and we can see them working toward common goals that will benefit Aspen, with a little dissension along the way. That would be a vast improvement over the current council whose communications have been stymied by infighting, with some of that credit going to Myrin.

With Manning and Richards on City Council, it would create a majority of women on the board, because mayoral candidate Ann Mullins — regardless of the election’s outcome — is in the middle of her second and final four-year term as councilwoman.

Our editorial board is convinced Aspen City Council needs a shake-up, and this is the first step. On March 5, vote Linda Manning and Rachel Richards for Aspen City Council.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.