Council wants stiffer development scrutiny |

Council wants stiffer development scrutiny

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN If the public thinks City Hall is too gung-ho on development, there’s good reason.And it’s not just because there’s plenty of it going on in town, but it’s also because city staff appears to support most development proposals that land on its desks.The recently elected City Council has a problem with that and is asking for more scrutiny of developments.”There’s a perception with the public that the Community Development Department is an advocate for development,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson. “It looks like advocacy. It’s the first exposure to the process, and I can understand why the public thinks that.”The issue came up at last month’s two-day City Council retreat when elected officials and staff discussed how to conduct the public’s business and how to proceed for the next year.When a development application is ready for review by the City Council, staff prepares a memo that includes a summary, background information and recommendation on whether it should be approved.Staff recommends approving the majority of applications without sufficient information that backs it up, City Council members say.”I want recommendations that weigh the pros and cons,” said Mayor Mick Ireland. “It adds to the organization’s credibility.”City Council packets can be as thick as 800 pages, which elected officials have four days to study before meeting with the developer at the scheduled public hearing. Elected officials say it’s difficult to make sense of all the information and they rely on city staff to present it clearly.”There needs to be less,” said City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss. “Give us a straight-out presentation of material and make a recommendation without being an advocate.”Most City Council members agree that the information oftentimes is too much, too detailed and too convoluted to understand.City Councilman Steve Skadron would like city staff to sharpen its writing skills and make what he is being asked to approve or deny more understandable.”I’m frustrated in trying to figure out and capture what we are trying to get out of [the information],” he said.Said Johnson: “A lot of it is meaningless.”Part of the problem is that many developers are notorious for providing their information to city staff too late. By doing so, it can’t be analyzed in a timely fashion. From now on, there will be consequences for developers who miss deadlines.”The same thing happens at the state Legislature. … The information is dropped on you, and you must critically think about what’s in front of you right then,” Ireland said. “I can’t lead a meeting, read the information and analyze it.”Obtaining the information late doesn’t allow city staff to analyze the application adequately, either. As a result, those who are paid to analyze it might miss elements of a proposed development.”It’s horrible when some member of the audience brings up an issue that we haven’t addressed,” Ireland said.Ireland and his colleagues agreed that staff must feel comfortable in criticizing a developer.”Staff has to be able to disagree with us, and they don’t fear losing their jobs,” Johnson said. “Don’t sell me – I hate being sold. Give me the black and white, down and dirty.”Ireland agrees.”I’ve seen a little too much advocacy,” he said. “I want the whole story before a recommendation. … No land-use application is perfect.”Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is