Charter: What does your Aspen look like? |

Charter: What does your Aspen look like?

Architects of the proposed Home Rule Charter amendment that will appear on May’s election ballot have pushed the tag line “Keep Aspen, Aspen.” Depending on who you ask, keeping this town the way it is means different things to different people.

Ask attorney Bert Myrin and he’ll tell you to walk down the street and ask a local, because when you talk to the people who work and live here year round, you understand why Aspen is unique; why there’s a community that has evolved unlike other resort towns.

Ask former Mayor Mick Ireland and he’ll tell you it’s the built environment, the presence of the mountain and the economic decisions that set Aspen apart from other resorts. Ireland said Thursday that while each redevelopment of Lionshead in Vail has resulted in economic success, that model isn’t necessarily right for Aspen.

“Our style is more open to the presence of the mountain in town,” Ireland said.

Ask Councilman Adam Frisch and he’ll tell you Aspen is more diverse than people think. The reasons why people move here, why they stay here, why they leave and why they come back are different in almost every case, he said. Some people live here year round and don’t ski one day all winter. Others are on the mountain every day because it is the only reason that drew them to Aspen in the first place. But behind every reason, he said, is the desire to be in a real community within a resort town.

“I think the ‘Keep Aspen, Aspen’ is kind of a cute, catchy line, but if you asked 20 people why they moved to Aspen, they have different answers,” Frisch said.

While he said it takes a lot of hubris to assume everyone is here for the same reason, he seemed to agree with Myrin and Ireland, who forged what is now known as Referendum 1, that there is a history here worth protecting and a community made strong by year-round residents.

What Aspen means to each individual will go a long way in deciding Referendum 1, which, if approved, would strip the Aspen City Council of its ability to grant development variances on height, mass, affordable housing and parking without a public vote. In response, the council has approved a series of code amendments that cap variance requests at 2 feet above the allowable heights and 5 percent above allowable floor area, while eliminating the ability to reduce affordable-housing mitigation.

On Wednesday, Aspen Public Radio will host a town-hall event on the “Keep Aspen, Aspen” ballot referendum. The event is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Belly Up Aspen.

“I don’t know anyone who comes here and wants bigger buildings,” Frisch said. “I think the issue is the land-use code has to be set up to honor what the town wants, and I don’t think that happens a lot.”

Over the course of his lifetime, Ireland said Lionshead has gone from small-scale to about 72 feet in height. He said with each generation, there has been a redevelopment project, where the old structure is torn down and replaced with a bigger building that serves as the economic engine for the project. He said it’s the same model in most ski resorts, and it’s what Aspen needs to fight against.

“I think that’s the question,” Myrin said. “What is your Aspen? … Your Aspen is, I think, different than your Vail or your Whistler, some of the other ski resorts that are manufactured. Snowmass, even.”

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