City questioned over projects
The Aspen Times
As the Aspen City Council weighs 50,000 to 70,000 square feet of construction for new office space, it’s also considering shortening the approval process for government or quasi-government development projects.
On Monday, the council discussed the proposed amendment, which Aspen’s Community Development Department has recommended. The change would align Aspen’s land-use code with a state statute that requires a decision on municipal projects within 60 days. If the city moves forward with the amendment, any project left undecided by the council in the 60-day timeframe would be deemed approved, according to City Attorney Jim True.
City Manager Steve Barwick said this 60-day process would not apply to any of the new city buildings coming online, but that did not quiet concerns over the land-use process as a whole.
Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority board member Marcia Goshorn, who is running for a council seat in May, raised concerns that the city is attempting to “fast track” its own development and subject it to a lower standard than private development.
“I have a real concern that the city is not going to put itself through the same process that they put everyone else that comes before them,” Goshorn said.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Steve Skadron elaborated on what he called “conspiracy theories.”
“The city has this public-facility need, this is getting passed, so the city can facilitate its expansion,” Skadron said. “This is what’s being proposed. On the other hand, if the city doesn’t (meet the 60-day deadline), an applicant’s project will be deemed approved without sufficient review. So it’s the typical lose-lose, as we say.”
Councilman Adam Frisch said Goshorn raised a good point and asked Community Development Director Chris Bendon to address her concerns. He also asked if the city is attempting to bypass portions of the process that private development cannot.
“I guess I would say it’s inherently different (than private development),” Bendon said, using approval of the Aspen Fire Protection District’s fire barn as an example.
He explained that the fire-barn concept was developed through a cooperative process, requiring district-voter approval and council review. He said private development might not have to deal with the same circumstances.
Bendon said planners began examining state rules during review of the Pitkin County Library expansion. The applicant had requested an approval process in line with the state statute. Bendon said the Planning Office’s response was that they could get it through in 60 days, as the project was a straightforward amendment to existing approvals.
Frisch said he’s confident that the city’s office-space project will be fully vetted by the public, though the timing of the proposed change is clouding the discussion.
“I don’t see the city coming in saying, ‘Listen community, we’re going to do this our way, and you’ll take it,’” Frisch said.
As proposed, the code change would apply to governmental entities, quasi-municipal organizations and public agencies. True pointed out that private development projects determined to have enough public benefit could be defined as public. Officials can opt to remove city projects from the code change but allow for other government proposals.
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