Council ponders consequences of loss |

Council ponders consequences of loss

Abigail Eagye

The resignation of a land-planning consulting firm sent the City Council into closed-door talks Friday morning, derailing a planned discussion of commercial land use in Aspen’s downtown core.The vacuum created by the firm’s departure left some council members with concerns about how to move forward with discussions related to the city’s moratorium on building applications and permits, scheduled to end Oct. 31.The city had contracted with Denver-based consultants Clarion Associates to give input on how other communities are coping with similar development issues, said Chris Bendon, director of community development for the city.”I just have some pretty strong reservations about just plowing ahead without some outside consultant,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said before the council went into executive session.Richards was worried that a new consultant might suffer from missing out on several months’ worth of council discussions and community meetings.Bendon didn’t share her concerns, however. “A lot of that analysis of what’s happening in other communities has been done and been presented to City Council,” he said after the meeting. “They’ve performed very well. Their analysis was good and legitimate.”Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss was concerned that Clarion’s departure would leave the council without the proper guidance if it decides to make changes to the code. He has said in the past that he wants experts involved in drafting the language of any code changes.Again, Bendon did not share those concerns with respect to losing Clarion.”That’s one of the benefits of having Alan Richman on board,” he said. “He writes code. That’s what he’s an expert in.”The city also contracted Richman to consult on planning issues during the moratorium. He has been a land-use planner for the city and, Bendon said, knows the council and the issues.Although some of the discussion Friday was devoted to whether losing a key consultant so far along would force an extension of the moratorium, Bendon said it’s too soon to know if that will be necessary.The council must first choose a path in terms of policy, he said. Only then can it determine whether it can pursue that path on its own or if outside consultants would be required. Until a specific process is determined, Bendon said, it’s too difficult to estimate how long the process will take.”It’s a tough thing to say in the abstract,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s [the council’s] decision.”Mayor Helen Klanderud said she would need to know the council has a sound basis to extend the moratorium before she could commit to it.”Someone’s going to have to demonstrate to me that it’s necessary to do so,” she said.Klanderud suggested there may be issues that can be addressed outside the umbrella of the moratorium.The pace of development, construction impacts and the need for more affordable commercial space are among the subjects the council seems to agree need addressing, she said.Losing one of several consultants the city has hired shouldn’t undermine the work the city accomplished so far in the moratorium, Bendon said. Council members and city staff have garnered a lot of information, and that work isn’t lost merely because Clarion has resigned. The council has already conducted meetings about the history of land-use planning in the city, tools for managing development, and about residential and commercial development. The city also sponsored a series of community meetings to gather public issues on development issues. “We’ve had good dialogue amongst the council,” Bendon said.Council members decided to postpone Friday’s discussion, however, and will resume talks Tuesday about a strategy for moving forward in light of Clarion’s departure.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is