Aspen Newsmakers of the year: Part 2 |

Aspen Newsmakers of the year: Part 2

Referendum 1, passed by Aspen voters in May, required a public vote on future developer requests for land-use variances.
Aspen Times file |

Editor’s Note: Each December, The Aspen Times compiles a list of the biggest newsmakers of the year. This year, the editorial department selected 13 top stories of 2015, published in two parts (Wednesday and today). Numbers 1 through 6 are included below as well as an in memoriam list of notable community members who passed away in 2015.

1. City Hall critics win with Referendum 1

In May, voters put Aspen City Council on notice about the future of development, narrowly passing a Home Rule Charter amendment giving the electorate the final say on downtown land-use applications.

Referendum 1, approved by 53 percent of the electorate, stripped the City Council of its power to grant variances on height, mass, parking and affordable housing without a public vote. The amendment applies to all commercial zones in the downtown core but exempts residential development.

Opponents of Referendum 1 said it would put too much power into the hands of residents, many of whom aren’t well versed in the land-use code, as opposed to members of City Council.

Even so, the passage of Referendum 1 showed the public’s waning faith in city government and the City Council to make decisions reflective of the community’s desires.

The make-up of the council, however, didn’t change much in the May elections.

Steve Skadron was easily re-elected over challenger Torre and incumbent Councilman Adam Frisch won handily, as well.

“I will honor the will of the people,” Skadron said of Referendum 1.“It passed, and Aspen will survive, and we’ll do the best under the circumstances.”

Outsider Bert Myrin, a folk hero of sorts with city government critics and often critical of City Council, thwarted political mainstay Mick Ireland’s bid for a council seat in the June runoff.

The anti-City Hall sentiment continued in December with the resignations of Community Development Director Chris Bendon and Historic Preservation Officer Sara Adams. The two longtime planners left to start a planning firm in January, inspiring their critics to start a petition drive to form a search committee to influence City Manager Steve Barwick’s hiring process.

Barwick said that would only politicize the hiring process for two positions that should be apolitical.

— Rick Carroll

2. Base2 loses, but Mark Hunt keeps developing

It was just a 37-room hotel proposal, but Base2 Lodge and its developer Mark Hunt were the talk of the town for months. At the end, Aspen voters dismantled any chances that the inn would be built at 232 E. Main St., currently home to a Conoco service station.

The November election, which saw 63 percent of Aspen voters opposed to Base2, was the culmination of public debates, City Council meetings and a manufactured campaign pitting Aspen’s old guard against the youth movement.

But before Base2 made the ballot, City Council on June 1 approved the project, in the form of an ordinance, with multiple concessions, such as nearly tripling the allowable size at the location to 15,000 square feet, along with employee-housing waivers and setback requirements.

The city said Base2 wasn’t beholden to Referendum 1, passed by voters in May, because Hunt submitted its land-use application beforehand. That led Aspen residents Ward Hauenstein and Marcia Goshorn to launch a petition drive to force the City Council to either rescind their approval or refer it to voters.

The petition caused Hunt to withdraw his application, but a few days later, in August, he reversed field and said he was willing to campaign for Base2. City Council granted Hunt his wish, referring Base2 to voters rather than rescinding the ordinance.

Hunt pumped more than $80,000 into the campaign, which touted Base2 as affordable and catering to the millennial generation that can’t afford to vacation in Aspen. They also argued that Aspen is desperate for more lodging, and if Base2 lost at the polls, Hunt would build a bank or drugstore in its place.

Opponents said City Council gave Hunt too many concessions on Base2, which would be a blight on Main Street.

Hunt has yet to reveal his new plans for the lot, but he will have to abide by the land-use code and won’t get any variances.

But the corner spot isn’t his only Aspen investment.

In 2015, Hunt bought the Red Onion building for $18 million, unveiled plans to build a boutique hotel in the old Crystal Palace and redevelop the old Aspen Daily News building. He also worked with the Historic Preservation Commission on several other downtown redevelopments, including the Bidwell Building. He owns at least 10 downtown commercial properties and has at least two others under contract. Hunt, from Chicago, began tapping the Aspen market in 2010.

— Rick Carroll

3. Lift 1A: Who will blink?

Aspen Skiing Co. and the International Ski Federation, the governing body of World Cup skiing, aren’t openly feuding about Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain, but they hold positions that appear on a collision course.

The FIS wants the ancient, fixed-grip, two-person chairlift replaced before the World Cup Finals are held in Aspen in March 2017. The event is one of the most prestigious in men’s and women’s alpine skiing. The FIS insists that venues must meet the standards of its brand.

Skico said it agrees that Lift 1A and the surrounding base area are due for upgrades, but it can only control a portion of the future. Skico applied for and received approval from the U.S. Forest Service to replace the lift as soon as summer 2016. However, company executives insist they will not make a multi-million investment until they know what plans will be proposed on base-area properties and how they will fare in the city of Aspen’s review process. That could prevent replacement of the chairlift in 2016, they said.

FIS officials say the rewarding of the March 2017 World Cup Finals is contingent on infrastructure improvements and subject to reconsideration.

Stay tuned in 2016.

— Scott Condon

4. Marijuana farm gets stay of execution

When Colorado residents voted for the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, a slew of unknowns came with it, from the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis to its societal impacts.

Likewise, Pitkin County officials grappled with the dilemma of High Valley Farms, a collection of four greenhouses a couple of miles upvalley from Basalt and across Highway 82 from the Holland Hills subdivision.

Holland Hills residents claimed that the pot farm was emitting skunk-like smells from the facility. They also alleged it ruined their summer because they couldn’t enjoy the outdoors in their neighborhood. Some residents claimed the stench was bad for their health; others said it threatened to lower their property values.

Neighbors banded together and lobbied the county to shut down the farm, which had two one-year retail cultivation and medical marijuana cultivation licenses up for renewal in September. The county put High Valley Farms on notice, saying its license was in peril because of the smells.

But Jordan Lewis, co-owner of the farm, convinced commissioners at a September hearing that thanks to the purchase of a new carbon-filtration system, he had found a way to eradicate the smells. By a 4-1 vote, commissioners gave High Valley Farms another one-year license, so long as its owners met with them on a quarterly basis. The county also hired an independent smell expert to monitor the farm.

“We won’t tolerate another lost summer,” Commissioner Michael Owsley told Lewis.

Lewis said that wouldn’t be the case.

“This is not going to repeat itself in the future,” he said.

— Rick Carroll

5. Teen’s takedown arrest goes viral

Social media and swirling distrust nationally over police officers collided in Aspen on Feb. 6 during the takedown arrest of an Aspen teen suspected of smoking pot.

Rarely do local, juvenile criminal cases generate the large amount of publicity that the high school student’s did, but the 16-year-old boy’s arrest was video-recorded by nearby peers at the public bus shelter located off of Maroon Creek Road by the Aspen school campuses. The video spread on social media, inciting a community debate on police tactics and teen attitudes toward authority and drug use.

During the incident, some students taunted arresting officer Adam Loudon, who had to call for backup, with expletive-laced insults. The arrest involved officers applying pain-pressure techniques and bringing the yelling, defiant boy to the ground.

A number of residents and Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor stood by Loudon, saying the officer took the right measures given the circumstances. Others said Loudon escalated a situation that could have been tempered with a heart-to-heart talk.

In April, a judge sentenced the teen to a one-year deferred judgment and one year of supervised probation along with community service for his underage possession of marijuana and resisting-arrest convictions. Loudon resigned from the Police Department in the spring to take a job out of state.

— Rick Carroll

6. Chris Jacobson

Former Snowmass Village Town Councilman Chris Jacobson is the obligatory politician behaving badly on the 2015 list of Aspen newsmakers. Jacobson, 50, was pulled over for drunken driving June 26 after an officer saw his car weaving on Brush Creek Road in Snowmass Village. He was arrested and taken to the Pitkin County Jail, where he repeatedly banged on the cell door and windows, peed on the floor, cussed out jail officers, tore off pieces of the cell’s rubber wall, damaged lights and, finally, had to be forcibly restrained in a chair. He was initially charged with DUI and felony criminal mischief because he did more than $13,000 worth of damage to the jail. Residents began calling for his resignation or a recall election, which they submitted enough signatures for Aug. 4. That same day, Jacobson announced in a council meeting that he would not resign, but shortly after he stopped showing up to meetings. When the community was asked whether he should stay in office on Oct. 13, they recalled him in a landslide, 623 votes to 59. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief and DUI in early December after handing over a check for $13,248 for the jail damage. He is set to be sentenced in January, when he faces a mandatory 10 days in jail for the DUI charge — his second — and up to 18 months in jail for the criminal mischief plea.

— Jason Auslander and Jill Beathard


This week in Aspen history

“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.

See more