Aspen City Council candidates get down to business
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Whether city government hurts or harms business in Aspen emerged as a theme during Thursday’s low-key Squirm Night forum for six candidates seeking election to the City Council.
Cliff Weiss suggested City Hall gets an unfair share of blame for the business community’s struggles, noting rent prices have a decades-old connection to real estate prices that are largely out of the council’s control.
“I think there are a lot of obstacles to business in Aspen,” he said.
The council has done much lately to improve the business climate, said the sole incumbent candidate, Steve Skadron. He cited funding for special events to bring people into town and “millions” of dollars into the economy, a move to retool the fee structure for small businesses, fronting money for marketing and supporting passage of a lodging tax that funds marketing.
“I don’t know how much further council, a public body, can bend to help the business community,” he said.
Marcia Goshorn has called for streamlining the city process for opening a business and said she’d like the city staff to guide prospective business owners in the nuances of zoning and fees at the outset. People sign leases without realizing zoning doesn’t allow their envisioned operation, she claimed.
“Right now, there’s nobody on the street. Why don’t we have free parking?” said LJ Erspamer, suggesting an idea that has come up before to draw people into the core during the offseason.
Adam Frisch said he wants to look at the economic consequences of the city’s actions, including certain provisions of the proposed Aspen Area Community Plan.
“Let’s make sure we’re not harming the small retailers we’re trying to help,” he said.
Economic growth can come without development, Frisch added, suggesting a focus on putting businesses in vacant spaces and helping small-business expansion and renovation.
“Economic vitality does not equal development,” he said.
Scott Writer called for a cost/benefit analysis on special events and said government needs an open mind.
“We can say ‘no’ anytime in the process, but it seems like we start the conversation with ‘no,'” he said.
“There seems to be the ‘us versus them, money is bad’ mentality,” Writer said. “I don’t think that’s true. We need jobs. We need successful business.”
Asked how they’d make life better for the average Aspenite, Skadron offered the most direct response – a separate signal cycle for pedestrians crossing at Mill and Main streets – but was chided by a moderator for offering an idea that’s already been raised in council chambers.
Erspamer reiterated his call to move the curb in front of the Hotel Jerome back for safety reasons among his responses, and Weiss again called for ending council meetings by 9 p.m. among his suggestions.
Writer said he wants to work toward ways to allow people to become “lifelong Aspenites” – a chapter in the community plan – by creating a more diversified pool of worker housing, including more entry level and top-end housing, and addressing the needs of the aging community.
Frisch called for a summit on worker housing and said he wants to address the capital reserves that will be needed to keep existing housing in good repair.
Goshorn cited her past work on the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board and keeping the housing rules fair for everyone.
Asked who among the current council they are most and least like, Skadron said he’s most like himself and least like interim appointee and mayoral candidate Ruth Kruger, suggesting she’s not always thoroughly prepared for council meetings.
Erspamer said he’s not like other members, touting his independence, but later said he’s least like Mayor Mick Ireland and most like Skadron and former member Dwayne Romero.
Goshorn said she’s most like Councilman Derek Johnson for the types of questions he asks, and least like Torre, as she doesn’t like to table decisions.
Weiss declined to answer. “Frankly, I don’t think I’m at all like any of them,” he said.
Writer said he’s most like Romero, but since he’s no longer a council member, chose Torre for his connection with the community’s young adults.
“I have a little bit of Mick in me, the tenaciousness and perseverance,” Writer added, but suggested he’s more open-minded than the mayor.
Frisch said he’s a little bit like Johnson and Romero.
The candidates for mayor and council will be in the hot seat again Friday at the Aspen Business Luncheon at noon at the Hotel Jerome.
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