Aspen council candidates agree – on partying and other issues

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen still knows how to party, four hopefuls for the City Council agreed Wednesday evening at a forum at the Limelight Hotel.

The lighthearted question – Have we forgotten how to party? – came at the close of more than an hour of mostly business-centric questions fired at candidates vying for two council seats that are up for election May 7.

“Hell no,” Jonny Carlson responded. “My nickname has been ‘Jonny Good Time’ for 20 years.”

It was one of the few questions Carlson, a last-minute entry in the race, could answer.

Fellow candidates Ann Mullins, Dwayne Romero and Art Daily likewise concluded that Aspen hasn’t lost its party vibe, though Daily admitted that he can’t sustain the momentum the way he once did.

The rest of the forum, which the Aspen Chamber Resort Association sponsored, focused on aspects of Aspen’s business climate and city government’s role in it.

Asked how they feel about the need for job growth, which has been essentially flat for a decade, Daily said Aspen’s objective isn’t continued growth.

“I don’t think Aspen’s goal is becoming bigger,” he said.

But Mullins and Romero both favored some level of job growth. Without it, Mullins said, the town becomes stagnant.

“There’s got to be some level that is appropriate – slow, single-digit job generation,” Romero said.

All four voiced support for development of a technology park in Aspen and some sort of city backing for a place that allows space that fosters emerging technologies, a divergence from Aspen’s tourist-based economy. Daily was the first to suggest the technology field as a way to keep young people in the community after they finish their schooling. Romero and Mullins both urged “incubator” space for new businesses.

On keeping young Aspenites here, Mullins said the city’s role should be supportive – affordable housing and child care, for example.

“If you want to be here, you can be here. I’m a perfect example of that,” said Carlson, who says he has worked as an art consultant and interior designer.

The candidates universally questioned an Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority report that concluded that the upper valley would need an additional 700 or so worker-housing units over the next decade.

“I think the report overstated the need, probably significantly, over the next 10 years,” Daily said.

Romero questioned the community’s ability to accommodate that much additional housing. It wouldn’t fly if a private developer proposed it, noted the former councilman, whose career has focused on real estate development and investment.

“We’d probably lop the guy’s head off,” he said. “We’re pretty much there in terms of carrying capacity.”

Mullins questioned the number of projected jobs that would help fuel the housing demand.

Asked how it benefited Aspen’s downtown core to see a rush of development applications in advance of a 28-foot height restriction on buildings, most of the candidates also were in agreement: It didn’t, they said.

“It really created a lot of unfortunate submittals,” said Mullins, who chairs the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“It was ill-conceived, and it’s not working in the best interests of our community,” agreed Daily, a local attorney.

“It did not help, and it definitely was not productive,” said Romero, who called on the community to get away from “radical pendulum swings” between a “frothy” development environment and “rash actions” by city government to counteract the building booms.

“The pendulum has kind of crashed on both sides, and the results haven’t been to our liking,” he said.

The candidates also discussed the Aspen Area Community Plan and the chamber-sponsored update of a decade-old Economic Sustainability Report, with both Romero and Daily calling for another look at new lodging in the Lift 1A neighborhood. The sustainability report also called for such a review.

Daily also hammered on the need to enhance Aspen’s vitality and said the resort’s recreational and cultural pursuits would be his focus in that regard.

All the candidates voiced support for city efforts to ease the path to refurbishment of aging small lodges and condo properties.

Carlson provided one of the more light-hearted moments, in the midst of the second question on the Aspen Area Community Plan, better known as the AACP, by asking, “First of all, what is the AACP?”

Later, he concluded, “Clearly I have a lot of reading and research to do.”

He doesn’t have much time. The Aspen Board of Realtors hosts a forum at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the St. Regis, and Squirm Night, sponsored by The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News, starts at 6 p.m. at Aspen City Hall.