Council hopefuls address development issues
ASPEN Aspen’s City Council candidates engaged in their first debate Wednesday night, facing a barrage of questions centering on how they would handle big development issues facing the town.All seven of those participating in the debate at City Hall disagreed with a decision the current council made on an application by the Lodge at Aspen Mountain. The council voted 2-1 about 48 hours earlier to send the project back to the drawing board.But candidates LJ Erspamer, Andrew Kole, Toni Kronberg, Michael O’Sullivan, Dwayne Romero, Steve Skadron and Michael Wampler all said they would have approved the 175,000-square-foot hotel. Candidate Hassen Dagher wasn’t able to attend the forum because of a personal issue.On the other hand, all seven candidates endorsed the council decision not to allow a fourth floor on the Hotel Jerome earlier this year.Following is a summary of some key points the candidates made during the debate.LJ ErspamerErspamer labeled himself “a free-market advocate” when asked if the council could take action to prevent the Hotel Jerome from becoming a fractional-ownership property. He said he would like to see it continue to operate as a hotel but acknowledged that the council has limited ability to prevent from following the industry trend of fractional ownership interests.When asked how he would curb negative impacts of construction, Erspamer touted a self-regulation approach by the industry. He said people in the construction industry should be encouraged to work together to find ways to lessen the impact on Aspen’s residents so that the city government doesn’t get involved to a greater degree.Erspamer urged a conciliatory approach to resolve the Entrance to Aspen impasse. He doubts the community can reach a consensus, and he argued against “someone making a unilateral decision.”He said a “good short-term solution” would be a configuration that would provide two lanes into town for morning rush hour and two lanes out in the afternoon. A possible long-term solution that deserves a closer look is the split shot, with two lanes into town and two out on different alignments, he said.Erspamer wouldn’t disclose whom he supports in the mayor’s race.Andrew KoleKole said he will offer voters specific ideas. As proof, he said he would like to use the city’s swelling affordable housing fund to buy modern, energy-efficient appliances in the roughly 2,500 units. It would cost about $1,500 per unit for a total of about $3.75 million, he said.
Kole introduced a new element to the Entrance to Aspen debate by saying officials should concentrate on the issue of “too many vehicles driving around.” A parking garage at the Marolt property might be needed to relieve congestion in town, he said.He didn’t express hope for the town solving the straight shot versus S-curves dilemma. “I think I’ll be out of office before Aspen comes to a consensus,” he said.Kole said he doesn’t know what Aspen can do to mitigate construction impacts. That is a job for the staff member the city has hired for that purpose.Regarding the Hotel Jerome’s fate, Kole said it was wrong to point fingers to determine who was responsible for the Gaylord family selling when the council didn’t approve their proposal. The city should have urged the Gaylords to “sit down, cooperatively” to reach a compromise that preserved the hotel, he said.Kole said he supports Tim Semrau for mayor because of his ability to be creative and “think out of the box.”Toni KronbergKronberg relied heavily on her technical knowledge of city issues during the debate. She has attended nearly all council meetings in the past decade. She said she is optimistic that Aspen will solve entrance issues within the next four to six years. Approving a bus lane between the roundabout the Buttermilk in a city election in May is an important first step, she said.She was the only candidate who claimed the city government has a strong ability to prevent possible conversion of the Hotel Jerome to fractional ownership. “We can make our own rules” as a Home Rule Charter-style of government, she claimed. Kronberg suggested that fractional ownership could be prohibited for the Jerome through zoning changes.She identified the city’s need to add affordable housing as a key issue. There is demand for between 1,000 and 1,500 units, she said. That cannot be met, but the city could make a dent by redeveloping the Marolt and Burlingame seasonal housing projects to higher density, she said.Kronberg wouldn’t disclose whom she supports for mayor.Michael O’SullivanO’Sullivan advocated an aggressive approach of “putting the brakes” on commercial core development and solving the Entrance to Aspen stalemate. He made it clear he is running for council because he doesn’t support the current council’s direction. O’Sullivan failed in a bid for Aspen mayor eight years ago.
He said he felt the council took actions that prompted the Gaylord family to sell the Hotel Jerome and led to the risk of turning it into a fractional ownership property.It was a “classic example of government overreach,” he said. “We lost some really great owners there, and we only have ourselves to blame.”O’Sullivan supports the straight-shot Entrance to Aspen and said it will take “guts” on the part of three people on the council to get the issue before voters and resolved.He declined to name whom he supports for mayor, although he said both “front-runners” support the preferred alternative, so he could work with them.Dwayne RomeroAs a project manager in the development industry in Aspen for the past 10 years, Romero took some interesting stances on development issues. He said the jury is out on whether fractionals benefit the economy or offer less to Aspen’s tourist base than hotels.”I’m not bullish on it,” he said of the conversion of lodging to fractional-ownership properties.He also said the city government needs to go to greater lengths to curb negative impacts of the construction boom. Instead of one staffer to deal with construction impacts, the city needs five, he said.He advocated ideas such as reducing the time that construction can occur: “We should be looking at things like curtailing Saturday work,” he said.Romero also said the city should “compress” the time that construction materials, concrete and dirt can be delivered to town and levy heavy fines for violations. He also said mandatory carpooling of construction workers from outside town limits can work.On the Entrance to Aspen issue, Romero said he is interested in the split shot, with lanes into and out of town on different alignments, as a long-term solution. In the shorter term, solutions must be found to keep traffic flowing at the intersections of Highway 82 and the Truscott housing and Cemetery Lane, he said.He didn’t endorse a mayoral candidate: “I’m pulling for the winner,” he quipped.
Steve SkadronSkadron assured voters that what they have seen during his four years on the planning commission is what they will get. While he stopped just short of endorsing Mick Ireland for mayor, he said his philosophy is closest to Ireland’s.Skadron said he supports promoting mass transit in the Entrance to Aspen solution, but he believes that expansion of the S-curves and the split shot deserve greater investigation.As a planning commissioner, he voted to approve the Lodge at Aspen Mountain application. He said the council should have directed a city official to do more to work with the Gaylords on a compromise on the Hotel Jerome future. However, he questioned if it was city action or the Gaylords’ ability to reap $20 million that led to the sale of the hotel.To alleviate construction impacts, he suggested making workers use the intercept lot as staging and ride the bus to sites in town. He advocated tough positions like ticketing dump trucks that idle.Michael WamplerWampler, a longtime bicycle shop owner and father of two young sons, said he is concerned about what the town has to offer to a younger generation. To preserve the character he opposes the straight-shot alignment at the Entrance to Aspen.”This is our town. We’re going to screw it up with the straight shot,” he said.Wampler said the S-curves can be improved to work, with two lanes into town in the morning and two lanes out at night.If citizens and the council majority favor the straight shot, Wampler said he wouldn’t be an “obstructionist.”Wampler supports more phasing of major construction projects to lessen the impact on the town. However, he also said he would avoid “micromanaging” as a councilman and let the city staff do its job. He would rely more closely on the recommendations of boards like the planning commission and concentrate on setting policy.He was critical of the City Council’s lack of direction. “We’re moving at the speed of nothing,” Wampler said.The Aspen Times, Aspen Daily News and GrassRoots TV sponsored the debate. The public-access channel will air the debate numerous times before the May 8 election.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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