Candidates differ on local priorities
This is the sixth part in an ongoing series of articles in which The Aspen Times seeks comment on various issues from candidates for city office. We are asking the candidates one question per day and will print their brief answers. Four candidates are seeking election as Aspen’s next mayor and six are vying for two City Council seats. The election is May 4.
Give us your ranking, in order of importance, of growth control versus open space versus affordable housing. Explain.
Michael O’Sullivan, mayor 1. Growth control. It has and always will be the one dominating issue that affects all of our citizens. By making growth costly, time consuming and difficult, we’ve been successful, to a large degree, at controlling it, but at the cost of driving out the middle class. We must continue to use these limited tools to control private-sector growth.
2. Affordable housing. Although it is a form of growth, it is one I haven’t seen much of, as opposed to growth control. The building of more affordable housing here in the upper valley has many positive attributes, compared to the downside effects of growth, i.e. less traffic, reliable work force.
3. Open space. This is quickly becoming a county issue. The city needs to continue its good job of pursuing what’s left of it. Bill Stirling, mayor Because Aspen is such a desirable place to live, the free-market phenomenon of rising prices drives it toward exclusivity. Once prices are driven up, locals are driven out. Modest homes, apartments and even historic buildings are razed to make room for excessive second homes. The town that was egalitarian becomes a class society. There can be grave consequences to this exclusivity.The Growth Management and Aspen Area Community plans assisted us to manage growth and chart our own destiny. However, now there has been a failure to create truly affordable units. We need a generous number of studios and one-bedrooms at $300 to $500 a month, either in town or on a bus line.But the city shouldn’t sacrifice open space or parks for housing, nor should the city be part of the overdevelopment of Aspen. Because so little housing has been produced in the last three years is not sufficient reason to start raiding open space or traditional parks or community amenities. Helen Klanderud, mayor I wouldn’t prioritize them. You have to consider each one in the context of the others. We’ve controlled growth to protect our open space and environment. However, in controlling growth, we’ve created problems in housing. Clearly, Aspen is not affordable today. Because it’s not, we’ve created an affordable housing program, which is necessary. But I do not support building affordable housing on open space. We have to consider the fact that development of housing has impacts on growth. I guess the bottom line for me is I support controlled growth, I certainly support dedicated open space and parks, and I support affordable housing, but “how much” and “where” become issues. Rachel Richards, mayor Growth control is the No. 1 priority, in my mind. Communities without growth control, such as Eagle County and Summit County, have an even worse affordable housing problem than we do. Affordable housing without growth control will never catch up with the demand for new workers.Open space and affordable housing are roughly equal in my mind. Both are extremely important components of community character. Individuals sacrifice a lot when they live in small, appreciation-capped affordable housing, and deserve the quality of life and recreation provided by both passive and active open space.Affordable housing is obviously necessary within Aspen to maintain community from one generation to the next, and to maintain our traditional eclectic mix of people. Jake Vickery, City Council Those are all important areas that the community needs to address. I look for solutions to city problems that benefit all three areas compatibly.I think open space is one of the community’s best investments toward quality of life, and perhaps our greatest legacy to future generations.We need to revitalize and rebuild our middle class and provide housing for our work force. Tony Hershey, City Council 1. Affordable Housing 2. Open Space 3. Growth Control.Right now, true affordable housing must be our first priority. If we fail to house our seasonal employees and long-term residents, none of us, or our children or grandchildren, will be able to live in Aspen, and it won’t matter what we have preserved.That said, I hate to remove one amenity in order to save another. Without a concerted effort to preserve our open space, I don’t think anyone would want to live in Aspen, housing or not.Which brings us to growth control, which is obviously in some ways at odds with housing. Obviously, no one wants Aspen to create the suburban sprawl that exists in Denver and elsewhere. If Aspen were to become like South Denver, I don’t think anyone of us would want to live here.But, I believe we can balance the above three priorities and preserve Aspen while allowing everyone the opportunity to live and prosper here. Tim Semrau, City Council Growth control, open space preservation, and more affordable housing are EQUALLY important for the long-range health of our city. It is not an either/or issue, it is a HOW issue. From 1990-1997 we met our goal of a 2 percent growth cap, which included the addition of 475 affordable housing units. The city’s land purchases give us the option of combining affordable growth with increasing public ownership of land for open space. Roger Haneman, City Council 1. Growth control, because it protects the other two. Growth control helps to maintain a small-town lifestyle, it prevents sprawl, and it can reserve a portion of the remaining development for affordable housing.2. Affordable housing, because a town is not a community without residents, and the day is fast approaching when nearly all our year-round residents will live in only deed-restricted housing. Will Aspen have enough members in the community to sustain itself then?3. Open space, because only by keeping the development that does occur as close to Aspen as possible can we save our neighboring ranch lands and the backcountry.
Bruce Meyer, City Council 1. Housing 2. Open space 3. Growth control. We have to realize that these three items are all interconnected. Our first priority must be to house more of the work force. With our limited amount of space in town and the surrounding area, it appears that some open space will have to be sacrificed. There has to be some give and take.And quite simply, without space to build, affordable housing will not be built. And while we do this, we can take a closer and more objective look at growth control. Tom McCabe, City Council For me, growth control is the most important issue, followed by affordable housing and then open space.Growth controls take affordable housing and open space into consideration as a part of an even larger balancing act. Tradeoffs are inevitable and priorities that shift over time are also inevitable. So I see controlling growth as a bigger picture that includes the smaller components of open space and housing, along with many other considerations.Employee housing would seem to be a higher priority in near term than open space, especially when one considers that Pitkin County is overwhelmingly federal land which can’t be developed. I don’t want to see every little parcel of private open space land turned into employee housing. And I don’t want to see land that we purchased, thinking it dedicated open space, converted to other purposes, including housing.I do think that in the short term, employee housing should be the priority until we reach whatever housing goal we think appropriate. I say this realizing that there may be some especially sensitive or unique open-space parcels where I would place their importance above that of employee housing.
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After nine months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Wheeler Opera House will reopen for local acts. A touchless reservation system will be open to 53 people for in-person at the venue. Online live streaming also will be available.