City gets earful: Slow the growth
Almost 50 people, all wearing brand-new “We (heart) Aspen” T-shirts, descended on the Aspen City Council chambers Monday night in an effort to put the skids on what many called character-killing growth.The impromptu gathering, which happened during the public comments part of Monday night’s City Council meeting, resulted from a letter to the editor in Friday’s Aspen Times by longtime Aspen resident Les Holst.Titled “Calling the silent majority,” Holst’s letter implored “friends of Aspen” to show up at Monday’s meeting. (Go to the archives section of aspentimes.com to view the entire letter.)”Just once, come to a council meeting and with your presence let [the council] know that there really are people living here who care about this community. Let them know the Aspen history and historic presence is what drives both the living community and the commercial-tourist presence only.”Aspen heeded Holst’s letter, as more people showed up Monday than attended last week’s council meeting that focused on a proposed moratorium on scrape-and-replace residential building projects, which drew considerable opposition from the area’s building community.Public-comment periods at City Council meetings usually last only a few minutes. Monday’s lasted almost 90 minutes, as more than a dozen people wearing the aforementioned T-shirts spoke.Holst went first. He called for council members to ask themselves four questions before entertaining any action: Why am I on City Council? What do I love about Aspen? Why do tourists come to Aspen? What do tourists love about Aspen?Holst rhetorically addressed those last three questions himself.”If anyone answers ‘construction cranes,’ I’d be surprised,” he said.To enthusiastic acclamation that included several rounds of boisterous applause, Holst, who served 10 years on the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission and five years on the city’s Asset Management Committee, made seven concrete recommendations to the council. The recommendations are all designed, as he said, to bring Aspen back to the basics that made it such an attractive place to live in the first place: Establish a six-month moratorium on building permits in all historic areas. Immediately remove the infill ordinance for the commercial core historic area. Remove ordinances allowing lot splits on historic properties. Adopt a policy calling for no more removal of historic properties from the Historic Inventory. Any HPC member who brings a project before the HPC shall be on the board for six months, or the life of the project. Establish a moratorium on hiring new city employees for one year. Holst also recommended establishing an ad hoc committee that would assist City Council in its endless quest to deal with the amount of growth occurring in Aspen.Former Mayor Bill Stirling asked the council to try “to save the heart and soul that defined this funky mountain town before it became a commodity.”James March implored the council to establish a construction ban on Saturdays.”The construction industry is now allowed to assault us six days a week,” March said. “If we cut that back to five days, there would less road rage, because the construction workers would have two days off instead of one. It would be better for those of us who live here and better for those who visit. Most visitors come on weekends, and they don’t come to hear construction noise.”Each suggestion was greeted by applause.County Commissioner Mick Ireland said, “We have lost our way in the calculus of redevelopment. We ask ourselves how much things will cost and how much sales tax projects will generate. We prospered in the past by not defining life totally by market strategies.”Mayor Helen Klanderud admitted a need for a more comprehensive communitywide discussion of growth-related issues. But, she stressed, there were a whole lot of people in the council chambers last week arguing vociferously against the proposed building moratorium.”Those people are your neighbors,” Klanderud said. “And they have different opinions on growth-related matters.”Councilman Jack Johnson expressed frustration that council meetings are generally sparsely attended unless there is a hot-button issue. Johnson pointed out several items on last night’s fulsome agenda that specifically applied to issues the T-shirt wearers raised.After Klanderud promised to make certain that there will be plenty of future opportunities for this dialogue to continue in a more formalized environment, like perhaps the next time the Aspen Area Community Plan is revised, almost every one of those T-shirt-wearers left the meeting – before the meat of the agenda, which included transportation issues, potential land-use-plan revisions and several historic lots splits, even started.
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