ACRA leaders continue to air concern about Aspen community plan |

ACRA leaders continue to air concern about Aspen community plan

Andre SalvailThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Leaders of a local business group continued to air concerns about the 2011 Aspen Area Community Plan this week, saying during a Wednesday public meeting that the document should include a chapter on economic development and that it lacked a forward-looking vision.Three board members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association – local planner Stan Clauson, former Mayor Helen Klanderud and Aspen Skiing Co. Senior Vice President David Perry – spoke up during a joint work session of the Aspen City Council, Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners and city and county planning and zoning commissions. They expounded on comments first brought up during ACRA’s Jan. 25 board meeting.Speaking for himself and not as an ACRA executive committee member, Clauson told The Aspen Times on Thursday that he has “significant concerns” about the draft of the plan, released last fall. The city and county hope to finalize the AACP, a work in progress for more than two years, in April. Wednesday’s meeting had been scheduled so that city and county elected and volunteer officials could discuss various P&Z revisions to the draft.Clauson said one problem with the document is its failure to recognize Aspen as a resort community, instead focusing on its small-town character. “We are much more than a small town,” he said.Clauson also said that on the whole, the document has a “negative, rear-view perspective on the past,” expressing a criticism that “development of recent years has resulted in the degradation of the community.”He said such sentiments were inappropriate for a forward-looking document.”In general, we want the plan to be more forward-looking and to have more specificity about where development should take place,” Clauson said.Also, the plan has a serious omission; it should contain a chapter on economic development that outlines ways in which the community can sustain its resort economy, he said.At Wednesday’s meeting, ACRA members suggested that a specialist in resort economies be hired to develop such a chapter for the plan. Clauson said Thursday that he believes the chamber would be willing to pay for part of that expense.Clauson said it was not his or the ACRA board’s intent to criticize the hard work that has gone into formulating the community plan’s second update. The AACP was created in 1993 and first updated in 2000. The 2011 version will undergo final revisions this month and next month through a series of meetings and public hearings.”The intent is not to drop a bomb on these proceedings,” Clauson said.In fact, Clauson praised recent efforts to address some of the concerns aired by ACRA and the business community, such as language that some felt carried a negative tone toward developers and business interests.Asked why ACRA was airing its comments now – instead of when the process began more than two years ago – Clauson said ACRA members did participate in the early sessions to shape the 2011 plan. “But we weren’t heard to the extent that we hoped we might have been heard,” he said.Certain philosophies of the plan are a particular interest to the business community, Clauson added, such as affordable housing mitigation for new development. City and county planners are currently weighing whether the plan should include a rule for a 60 percent or 100 percent rule on mitigation. In other words, the question is whether new development – such as a restaurant or hotel – should provide affordable housing options within the city’s urban growth boundary or in the city itself, or pay a fee in lieu of such housing options, for 60 percent of the workers hired to staff a new development. In the past, 60 percent has been the benchmark, but some P&Z members and other officials believe the goal should be 100 percent.Another issue of great concern to the business community is the “Entrance to Aspen.” Many theories abound as to how the city should move workers and visitors into and out of the area with greater ease and efficiency.Chris Bendon, director of the city’s Community Development Department, said he and other planners welcome and encourage any suggestions that ACRA members want to submit. He said he and others involved in the creation of the community plan met with ACRA’s executive committee on Monday.”They are concerned about Aspen’s sustainability as a resort, given the dynamics of the economy, and given what they see happening at other resorts,” Bendon said. “I understand their concerns.”Bendon said ACRA members and anyone else who would like to offer suggestions on the plan are invited to do so, as many more public meetings will be held on the 2011 AACP update.Regarding the notion that the plan should contain an economic development chapter, Bendon said he doesn’t think that such an element is absolutely necessary.Still, Bendon said ACRA’s input on the plan is a valuable resource. “We’re encouraged that they want to have a more effective voice in what the plan says,” he said.Mayor Mick Ireland agreed, saying it’s appropriate for ACRA – and any citizen or group within the community – “to go to P&Z meetings and make their voice heard.”An economic development study or chapter, along the lines of what ACRA is seeking for the AACP, doesn’t have to be tackled directly in the community plan, Ireland said. It can be commissioned after the plan is adopted, and before the plan’s “action items” are passed into local ordinances, he said.In other words, work on the plan won’t slow down to accommodate the creation of new sections, Ireland said.”It’s kind of the Aspen way to come in at the last minute (and want changes),” Ireland said, adding that he understands when people say they’ve been too busy to get involved earlier in the process.The mayor said many of ACRA’s comments, such as concerns over the document’s tone, are valid and they are being worked out. But overall, he said, the AACP will represent the wishes of a majority of the community, given that it was formed after a long series of small and large group meetings and with further input from the community after the draft was revealed.”It’s important that the plan maintain a balance, and that it not overreact to boom construction periods or the recession,” Ireland said. “It should be a general expression of what the entire community wants.”

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