Aspen candidates appear in season’s first election debate
The Aspen Times
While Mayor Steve Skadron said Wednesday that the Aspen City Council has established a transparent and collaborative work environment at City Hall in the past two years, his opponent Torre argued that he sees a lack of leadership, representation and accountability.
The two candidates vying for the mayor’s seat in May appeared at the Limelight Hotel on Wednesday during this year’s first election forum, hosted by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Moderator Charlie Bantis asked the candidates about development, Referendum 1 and marijuana, among other topics.
When Bantis asked the candidates who is responsible for allowing the Aspen Art Museum to be built, Torre, a former councilman who is making his fifth bid for the mayor’s seat, said you can’t point fingers at any one person, that it was a yearslong process with many players involved. Skadron responded that Torre had motioned toward former Mayor Mick Ireland, who presided over the council when the application was approved.
Skadron, the dissenting vote in the 4-1 approval, said it’s not Ireland’s fault. It was the result of a post-9/11 push for infill, a set of land-use amendments passed with the hopes of spurring economic activity.
“What you’re seeing built today, the buildings that are causing all the angst, are a result of an old law. They would not be built today,” Skadron said, while calling into question Torre’s role on the council that passed infill in 2002.
Torre addressed the passage of infill, claiming that when he joined the council in 2001, officials were looking at allowing heights as high as 48 feet in the downtown core. Torre added the was on the side that fought to lower it to 42 feet.
“I was proud of what I got accomplished on infill,” Torre said. “You don’t win every battle when you’re on City Council, but all you can do is try for the goals you see in front of you.”
Torre, a proponent for Referendum 1, said Wednesday that he is disappointed in the direction the government is taking in its own development project, a space-needs concept that could result in 70,000 square feet and three new buildings. Torre pointed out that the council already has spent about $3 million on initial design work for two concepts estimated at about $40 million.
“The council’s already spent almost $3 million toward the architect to take two different options to final design instead of focusing our energies on one option of less building, less construction impacts,” Torre said. “That’s not the course that we’re on right now. I do not support over 70,000 square feet.”
Bantis had asked if public development should be subject to the same land-use rules as private development, to which Skadron responded, “Absolutely they should, and the city does.”
In closing, Torre cited his 20-plus years in Aspen and two terms as councilor in asking to bring accountability and leadership back to City Hall. Skadron said he is focused on three things: a land-use code consistent with the Aspen Area Community plan, environmental standards that the entire nation will follow and economic diversity that moves Aspen away from boom-and-bust economics.
The chamber expects to post the full conversation at http://www.aspen chamber.org.
Candidates for council
A wide variety of experience and backgrounds were on display with the seven candidates running for two open Aspen City Council, ranging from first-time campaigners to an incumbent councilman to a well-known Aspen politician.
Lead organizer of Referendum 1, Bert Myrin said he has seen good people enter City Hall only to make the wrong decisions once inside.
“I’ve volunteered on a number of campaigns for a number of people who I think are good people going in, only to find myself later working on persuading them to do the right thing, overturning their decisions, standing on the street corner, asking for signatures,” said Myrin, who also organized the petition group that shot down Ordinance 19, a controversial lodging-incentive package passed and repealed in 2014.
Given the recent Aspen parking scandal, which recorded around $600,000 in fraudulent transactions between 2010 and 2014, Bantis asked the candidates what they would change at City Hall. Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority board member Marcia Goshorn said that in 2008, there was a citizens’ budget task force that recommended a detailed audit.
“The recommendations made by that budget task force were never taken into account,” Goshorn said, pointing out that officials knew about the scheme as early as 2011 and asking why the council didn’t know about it sooner.
Former three-term Mayor Mick Ireland said City Manager Steve Barwick should be subject to an annual review, and the accountability over the incident shouldn’t have ended with the reassignment of Parking Director Tim Ware.
Adam Frisch, the lone councilman seeking to defend his seat, cited his council’s 18-1 approval record on four lodge proposals that he said will help revitalize the bed base. In his first bid for a council seat, former certified public accountant Andy Israel said it was the city’s handling of Wagner Park that told him officials are not acting on the best interest of the community.
“It opened my eyes to some things,” Israel said, adding that he’s frustrated by City Hall in general.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Keith Goode said he would be in favor of a full-scale rezoning of Aspen’s commercial core that results in better affordability for businesses. Former housing director Tom McCabe also discussed affordability, saying it was sad to see the Mountain House Lodge shutter this past week.
“If you want people to live and invest here and raise their families and not leave when they’re 35 or 37 years old, we might want to look at (affordability),” McCabe said.
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