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Activist to seek election

Allyn Harvey

Anti-rail activist Michael O’Sullivan has focused his political ambitions on the Pitkin County commissioner’s seat held by District 3 incumbent Shellie Roy Harper.

The 40-year-old painter, property manager and anti-rail activist announced plans to run for the five-member board yesterday. He accused Harper of excluding the public from government and pursuing valleywide rail at the expense of more viable transportation options.

O’Sullivan is a relative newcomer to the county’s political scene. Last spring, he placed third in the four-way race for mayor of Aspen. He was also part of the unsuccessful effort led by Common Sense Alliance founder Jeffrey Evans to recall four county commissioners – including Harper.

In announcing his candidacy, O’Sullivan took the opportunity to criticize the county board’s closed-door meetings. “I would like to do away with executive sessions in most instances,” he said.

O’Sullivan also said he is disturbed by the county government’s tendency to declare emergencies unnecessarily, particularly in the case of the roundabout and the moratorium.

“It’s not that I’m against the roundabout – it works,” he said. “But the question is, does it work as well as an underpass? I don’t think so. Is it as safe as an underpass? I don’t think so.”

O’Sullivan said he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the cost and design estimates that showed a grade-separated intersection would cost considerably more – at least another $10 million – and use considerably more land – up to four acres – than the roundabout.

O’Sullivan criticized Harper for her seemingly blind pursuit of rail, and he’s disturbed that the county’s voters haven’t had a chance to vote on it. “I think all the support for a train is here in Aspen. When you move outside the city, the support dwindles,” he said.

As for the moratorium, O’Sullivan said he thinks the county needs to look at its goals when it comes to growth-management regulations. “If they’re to build more affordable housing, then I’m all for it,” he said, promising to pursue policies that encourage private-sector development of affordable housing.

“The people in government here have decided that people in government are the only ones who can build affordable housing. I just don’t believe that. If we don’t engage the private sector, we’re going to get a new Snyder project every five years,” he said, referring to local government’s latest worker housing complex.

But O’Sullivan isn’t thinking of projects like the North 40, a privately developed neighborhood across from the airport, where the price of lots is restricted to between $75,000 to $175,000. He called the North 40 “sprawl” and said he didn’t like the control that developer John McBride has in deciding who gets to purchase a lot.

He’s more interested in the work that developer Tim Semrau has done lately, including the Alpine Cottages townhomes on the east end of town and the Pitkin Iron development off Highway 82, about 10 miles west of Aspen. Alpine Cottage townhomes sell for between $500,000 and $600,000; Pitkin Iron units will not be so expensive.

O’Sullivan doesn’t think all public housing developments are bad, however. He likes the affordable housing and open space opportunities presented by the Burlingame project near the airport. He noted that the property could have been developed with more than 60 luxury homes before the city bought it. “For working people and environmentalists, this is as close to a win-win situation as you can get.”


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