Council needs some backbone
October 19, 2010
In response to Chris Bendon’s letter regarding “process,” I have to address his view of the “mischaracterizations” of the review process.
Chris refers to “the public process” as being TV, press conferences, graphics, brown bag meetings, etc. There may have been some of that “public process;” however, in a community that has long been conditioned to the process occurring over a lengthy period of time, including reviews and opportunities for public discussions with officials, the public was not prepared for this procedural end run.
This process was completely avoided by the people who were elected to oversee the good of the community. We were led to trust “the process” when the mayor, after denying the original Wienerstube application because it was out of character with the area and did not meet the guidelines of the Aspen Area Community Plan, stated that he would defend the AACP to the last dollar.
The first “official process” word of the museum occurred on July 12 at the regular council meeting. It was the first reading of an ordinance approving a settlement of the Wienerstube suit. This item was not on the agenda until just prior to the meeting. Unless most of the public are civic junkies, this was probably unnoticed except for the hydroelectric people who were on the agenda for the first reading.
However, the Aspen Art Museum (AAM) team was present. The first reading, presentation and actual reading of the ordinance lasted exactly five minutes and 39 seconds. Chris Bendon interrupted the mayor’s call for a vote to remind council that there was a a second element to the ordinance, which added another two minutes to the proceeding. Point of fact, the hydroelectric project is still waiting for first reading.
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I found it interesting, and somewhat disturbing, that the council had been through enough exposure to the AAM proposal that there was no need for questions or comments. The AAM presented, very quickly, two boards and the model. The model is very small, considering its impact on the city, and shows almost nothing to indicate its size and mass as it impacts the neighborhood. Neither of the renderings presented, at that meeting or at the later meeting, showed the building from a street perspective that will be the way a pedestrian would see it.
That was the first official step, in public, of a major land-use development. The second meeting, on Aug. 3 (three weeks later), was for council discussion, public hearing, second reading and final approval. The AAM supporters were out in force while many opponents were caught off-guard by the unexpectedly short time between readings and the surprisingly early start time. The recommendation from planning was overwhelmingly pro-project with no criticism. This had to be a first for a complex land-use application that provided no housing, no parking, no set-backs, etc.
The mayor, who is entitled to his opinion, used his comment period for a Power Point presentation that was a very commendable selling job. His presentation, which was couched as a general response to e-mails that he received, would not be worth comment if they had been made as a specific and personal response to a private citizen. His presentation was totally inappropriate for a public official. However, there was no recognition of the 800-plus signed statements of residents that are not altogether opposed to the concept of the museum or its architecture but who are opposed to the disregard of the city codes and the Aspen Area Community Plan.
The process failed totally in this case.
This became a full-blown plan, with council and planning office blessings, that was, if not totally in secret, in deep twilight. This project should have been denied on the same grounds that the first proposal was denied. It does not meet the guidelines that the mayor said he would defend to the last dollar.
Council should bite the bullet and cancel this approval. Fight the battle in court and make the AAM redesign the building to conform to today’s land-use code and the AACP.