4. Mick Ireland, Aspen’s controversial mayor
December 28, 2007
Veteran politician Mick Ireland created headlines earlier this year simply by announcing his candidacy for mayor. He was already controversial as a Pitkin County commissioner, and a contentious race between Ireland and candidates Tim Semrau and Torre for Aspen’s highest-profile job ensued.
The final weeks of the campaign season pitted Ireland ” an activist running on an environmental, slow-growth platform ” against Semrau, a developer who had a vastly different view of Aspen’s future direction.
Ireland eventually won in a June runoff election against Semrau, and he’s been making headlines ever since. Ireland, whose daily attire includes sandals, a bike helmet and exercise pants, is a newsmaker for his tough stance on development as well as his leadership style. At times, he can be abrasive with members of the public and his colleagues on City Council. Still, he prides himself on letting the public speak.
“People do feel like they have been listened to,” he said.
Ireland is clear and unapologetic on his positions regarding the environment, mass transportation, land use and affordable housing. He sees his election to the mayor’s office as a mandate to preserve Aspen’s small-town character, history and community. He wouldn’t have made such an impression this year if it weren’t for a generally supportive city council but, as mayor, Ireland is the council’s figurehead.
Just weeks after being sworn into office, Ireland supported a historic-preservation ordinance that required hundreds of properties to undergo governmental review before they could be demolished or significantly altered. After five months of public debate, the City Council acquiesced to property owners opposed to the law, and the ordinance was softened.
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Then several high-profile land-use applications came before Ireland and the council, many of which were shot down. Ireland voted against the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, a hotel and fractional-ownership condo development at the base of the ski area. He also voted to deny the redevelopment of the Cooper Street Pier building, which is now the subject of a lawsuit against City Hall. Ireland recently criticized the redevelopment plan for the Wienerstube complex. Developers are currently deciding whether to alter the proposal in the hopes of a more favorable review.
In every case, Ireland said the development proposals were either too big or didn’t fit Aspen’s stated goals. As a result, he was hit with a lot of criticism from the business community, which favors redeveloping an aging resort. Ireland believes he is following his constituents’ collective wish to slow the rate of construction and foster smarter growth.
As a single man with no children who lives in subsidized housing, Ireland commutes around Aspen via his bicycle. It caused great angst among locals and commuters when he supported an expansion of paid parking into Aspen’s residential neighborhoods in order to get cars off the road. The proposal was put on hold until next year so it can be planned more thoroughly.
Ireland campaigned for several ballot initiatives that were approved by voters this fall: a new 2.1 percent use tax on construction and building materials, a new 0.15 percent sales tax increase for mass transportation, and a property tax of 0.65 mills for a citywide storm-water-management plan. Voters also approved a $5.1 million hydroelectric plant that will increase the city’s electric utility’s renewable energy supplies. And Instant Runoff Voting was approved, which will eliminate runoff elections in the future.
The approval of those ballot measures is what Ireland considers his biggest achievement in the six months he’s been in office. He also is proud that the council reduced the mill levy rate for homeowners facing huge property tax increases.
Ireland’s latest controversial move was his support of the city’s largest land purchase in history ” $18.25 million for the BMC West property near the Aspen Airport Business Center. Despite criticism that the city paid too much for the property, Ireland sees the acquisition as a huge step forward in the effort to build more affordable housing for Aspen’s citizens.
“You strive to be as good as you can be,” he said.