Aspen voters will decide on Base2 Lodge
The fate of Base2 Lodge project is now in the hands of Aspen voters.
Aspen City Council decided by a 4-1 vote Tuesday to put the 37-room project on a ballot question in the upcoming November election, punctuating months of debates driven by a successful petition effort intended to derail the lodge.
The council’s decision comes after developer Mark Hunt withdrew the proposal last week, only to change his mind at Monday’s City Council meeting.
“I didn’t come here looking to a pick a fight, looking to put a wedge within the community,” Hunt told the council Tuesday. “But the more I thought about it, the more I read last week … I think there’s a such a level of distrust with all parties involved in this community that maybe the only way to get a real answer at this point is to hear from a public vote.”
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Before Monday’s City Council meeting on Base2, which was continued to Tuesday, a Base2 election appeared to be a remote possibility.
Hunt’s abandonment of Base2 had been the result of loud opposition to the Main Street project. A petition drive engineered by Aspen residents Marcia Goshorn and Ward Hauenstein collected the required number of signatures to bring Base2 to a vote after City Council granted the project multiple variances — including doubling its allowable size from 7,500 to 15,000 square feet — on June 1.
Hunt’s letter to the city explaining his decision to withdraw noted it “has become clear to the applicant that this approval is no longer about maintaining an accessible lodging base in town but rather a contentious political debate that splits the community.”
But a group of Aspen activists at Monday’s meeting expressed their frustration toward City Attorney Jim True and City Clerk Linda Manning for not requiring the council to either repeal the ordinance that approved Base2 or refer it to a public vote. True said the council didn’t need to take any action because Hunt had vacated the project. Even so, he told council they could vote to repeal it or take it to an election, but only if Hunt withdrew his withdrawal notice.
That’s what Hunt did Tuesday, prompting the council to pass two resolutions — one acknowledging that Hunt’s project would proceed, another referring it to a public vote.
The five-member council’s lone dissenter was Bert Myrin. Myrin, who at Monday’s meeting singled out developers, and chiefly Hunt, as not being trustworthy, apologized for part of those remarks.
“I perhaps spoke too strongly about all developers in town,” Myrin said. “I think there are a number of developers in town who are trustworthy.”
But Myrin, serving his first term on City Council after winning the June runoff over Aspen political stalwart Mick Ireland, didn’t back off of criticism of the process involving Base2, from the initial variances the council gave the project to council’s referring it to a vote. Rather than sending Base2 to a vote, Myrin wanted to repeal the ordinance that supported it.
Other council members disagreed.
“I don’t know why this could be argued that this is a bad process,” said Councilwoman Ann Mullins. “We’re actually back to where we started and apparently what the people who started the petition wanted.”
Councilman Art Daily shrugged off Myrin’s suggestion that a successful Base2 election could spark litigation, calling that assertion a “red herring.” Myrin countered that there is a potential for a lawsuit because the council made an arbitrary decision to allow Hunt to proceed, basing their call on what they felt was in the city’s best interest.
“There is no criteria in front of me or what’s the best interest of the city,” Myrin said. “If I were to look at best interest of city, it’s not to divide the community on an issue that we have an opportunity to rescind.”
The meeting’s personal tenor among council members was mainly because of Myrin’s remarks about the city’s incompetence and other criticisms that failed to frustrate the council’s decision to take Base2 to a vote.
“I think it’s overly dramatic to suggest that the entire process is unfair, or corrupt, or that council, I think you used ‘shenanigans’ (to describe council), simply because the outcome you desire is not a majority opinion,” Mayor Steve Skadron said. “I guess I don’t see how sending this to a vote and letting people speak, just as the petitioners intended, to get this on the ballot is all of a sudden a bad thing.”
But Hunt’s withdrawal notice last week “changed the entire dynamic” of the Base2 process, Myrin argued.
Once the council approved the referral of Base2 to voters, Aspen resident Michael Behrendt, who owns the St. Moritz lodge, barked out, “Shame on you!” and left the meeting.
The space on which Hunt is aiming to build Base2, which his Chicago-based 232 East Main Street LLC bought for $6 million in June 2014, currently is occupied by a Conoco service station.
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