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Aspen says no to housing for

Aspen Times Staff Report

Aspen’s Bass Park will remain a park, city voters determined Tuesday by supporting both preservation of the park and the funding source to buy it.

By almost equal margins, city voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax for open space purchases and endorsed Referendum 2D, calling for use of the tax to pay for the park.

The two measures were among six city ballot issues that all received voter support in Tuesday’s election. Voters also endorsed a 1 percent lodging tax, runoff elections, the use of excess property taxes for the Iselin Park recreation complex and the sale or lease of open space for the Truscott Place redevelopment.

Bass Park, a small chunk of green space at the corner of Monarch Street and Hopkins Avenue, has been caught in a tug-of-war between park supporters and affordable housing advocates since the city bought it in 1999, mostly with housing funds.

After four ballot proposals regarding use of the park all failed last November, the city indicated it would build worker housing on the site unless voters approved the new open space tax and directed the city to buy the park with the open space dollars. The housing fund will be reimbursed the $3.34 million plus interest that went toward the park’s purchase.

Park supporters were clearly pleased with the results of yesterday’s balloting. Preservation of the park was approved 1,809 to 1,053, while the open space tax won by a 1,813-to-1,049 margin.

“Actually, I thought it would be closer than this. Housing is a big issue in this community,” said Hal Clark, a member of the Friends of Bass Park. “I thought it would be a hard sell. . I wasn’t sure that people would identify with a passive little park.”

With the park’s future assured, the Friends group will get together to discuss improvements to the site in the coming days, Clark said.

Housing on the park would have required a high public subsidy, given the cost of the land, added City Councilman Tom McCabe.

“That money will go further at other locations,” he said.

The open space tax will give the city the ability to borrow up to $38 million for open space purchases. Private property on the face of Smuggler Mountain and a 70-acre parcel near North Star Nature Preserve east of town have already been identified as probable purchases.

The closest vote of the night for the city was on the 1 percent visitor benefit tax, or bed tax, which was approved by a 1,492-to-1,413 vote.

Mayor Rachel Richards and Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations, high-fived on a dark and snowy Main Street when its passage finally appeared certain.

The tax, applied to short-term hotel accommodations, is expected to generate about $1 million a year – $500,000 Aspen will put toward expanded regional mass transit and $500,000 to fund a cohesive marketing effort for the resort.

Also approved were:

n Referendum 2C – Use of excess property taxes collected in 2000 through 2004 for the Iselin Park recreation complex, 1,929 to 898.

n Referendum 2E – The sale or lease of small parcels purchased with open space money to accommodate the Truscott Place redevelopment, 1,982 to 868.

n Referendum 2F – Amendments to the city charter to establish runoff elections for mayor and City Council members, 1,755 to 542.


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