Bass Park: The council leaps to make a bad decision | AspenTimes.com

Bass Park: The council leaps to make a bad decision

The Aspen Times Editorial

The Aspen City Council’s backpedaling on the issue of Bass Park this week was a sad example of making policy at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, under pressure and without much thought.

For those who missed it, the City Council this week essentially endorsed the idea of keeping the park as a park, rather than pursuing the original goal of using the land for affordable housing. The occasion of this endorsement came during the council’s informal Monday luncheon meeting, when a group of open-space advocates argued vociferously in favor of keeping the park as is and the council agreed on the spot that that was what they ought to do.

Thankfully, since it was at the “brown bag lunch” meeting, no formal or final decision could be made. So there is still time to listen to reason and take a different course.

To begin with, if the land is to remain a park, the city’s Housing Fund – which put up most of the money to buy the property – will have to be reimbursed $3.4 million. The citizens’ proposal was to raise that money through public donations. That’s going to be a difficult task.

Fund-raising for open-space purchases has been tried before, and none too successfully. Readers may recall the all-out effort to come up with $2.6 million to buy the Hummingbird Lode property in Hunter Creek. A fund-raising drive raised a fraction of the amount needed – the bulk of it came from wealthy private landowners and government coffers. It would appear that the community feels it has done enough for open space by approving taxes and special funding programs.

There wouldn’t seem to be much of a chance of getting a great deal of support to buy a piece of land most locals couldn’t find on a map. And it must be kept in mind that there is only so much money to go around, even in this wealthy community, so every penny raised to preserve Bass Park might easily be money that doesn’t go to some well-established worthy cause.

In addition, as those few people who actually do use the park can tell you, it is not unusual to find the corners of the property littered with broken glass and other refuse, which does not speak highly of its popularity, either with the general public or the workers of the parks department.

And, finally, it is within a few minutes’ walk, in any of three directions, of much more ample, inviting parks – Wagner, Paepcke and Koch Lumber parks, to be specific.

Open-space advocates say we need this patch of green to help our urban environment, but what about the unknown number of vehicle trips that could be eliminated from our traffic jams if this land were used for employee housing?

The simple fact of the matter is, this land was purchased with an affordable housing project in mind. It is a perfect site for “in-fill” housing, ideally located in the center of town. It is not likely to be challenged by the “Not In My Back Yard” or “NIMBY” crowd. To change course now, based solely on the urging of a small number of citizens is not only the worst kind of planning for our future, it is a evidence of a complete lack of leadership.

At least three of our elected representatives – Mayor Rachel Richards and council members Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe – were elected based in large part on their support for more affordable housing. What happened to their commitment to their constituency?

If the council cannot see its way clear to make up its own mind on this issue, it should hold a series of well-advertised public hearings – not unadvertised, informal meetings held at noon on Mondays, but real public hearings where everybody knows about it and all sides can show up and be heard.

Then, after hearing from the public, the council should make its decision.

It is to be hoped that this decision will be in favor of housing, since it seems clear that our housing situation is in a worse state of crisis than our open spaces.

And if the problem is that, as some have stated, this price is too high for 30 affordable apartments, then surely it is too high for a tiny, underused park.


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