Council’s priorities: Traffic, economy and Aspen’s future |

Council’s priorities: Traffic, economy and Aspen’s future

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council has set some lofty goals for the upcoming year, which include addressing the long-debated Entrance to Aspen, as well as the city’s historic preservation and affordable housing programs, and launching new environmental initiatives, among other priorities.

The council set its top 10 goals last week during a 10-hour retreat, when the city’s elected officials looked back at the previous year’s accomplishments and disappointments, and contemplated what the focus of work should be in the next 12 months.

One of the more notable goals is to prepare a November 2010 ballot question for city voters that asks them to decide on a solution to the traffic bottleneck at the Entrance to Aspen on Highway 82. The issue has been debated for decades and the council wants direction on how to proceed. The question will likely offer several alternatives and the ones with the most support will be acted on.

“I think there is a community willing to see something change,” Councilman Torre said. “I think we need to get a baseline of conditions … what is the current condition? How much are people suffering in traffic?”

By the end of the year, transportation officials will get a handle on what those conditions are and vet out all of the alternatives to present to voters by the fall of 2010.

While there isn’t funding for a solution, elected officials from Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village agreed last Thursday to establish a savings account funded by a half-cent sales tax for the Entrance to Aspen.

“The funding is not immediate but at least we’ll have direction,” Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said during the retreat.

By next June, the council wants to have a strategy in place for affordable housing that defines a capital reinvestment plan for homeowners, including a loan fund for energy efficiency improvements. The plan also will address what do to about an aging population that will retire in deed-restricted units, effectively taking them out of the workforce but not out of the housing inventory.

Also on the affordable housing front, the council wants a development plan secured for a certain amount of units for the final phases at Burlingame Ranch so it can ask voters in November 2010 to issue bonds to pay for the city-developed neighborhood. Also part of the plan is to get commitments from potential partners like the school district, the hospital and the bus agency to buy in at Burlingame to subsidize their employees to live there.

The council also wants to solidify a long-term affordable housing plan for city employees, including assistance options, by this December.

Another goal is to strengthen the resort by encouraging and supporting local investment initiatives that stimulate economic diversity, and build upon the innovation and creativity that exists within town.

Councilmen Steve Skadron and Dwayne Romero said Aspen’s tourism and development based economy should be expanded to include environmental aspects and “green jobs.”

“We need to wean ourselves off that one sole source of commerce [tourism] and be known as a little hotbed of innovation and creativity,” Romero said. “We aren’t tapping into that human intellect that we have at all.”

The council plans to have the city government incentivize residents and building owners to reduce their energy footprint by offering access to capital and expertise.

As it stands now, the city’s environmental initiatives aren’t enough to get people to practice environmental stewardship to their fullest potential, Skadron said.

“We haven’t altered our own lifestyle to match [our] green goals,” he said. “We need to affect community behavior.”

The city’s historical preservation program is also another priority. Direction on to how designate privately-owned properties, effectively limiting what owners can do to remodel or demolish them, must occur by Oct. 15. The goal is to have council agree on a policy by Dec. 31 and have officials propose code and design guideline changes by June 15, 2010.

A large citizen task force has been meeting for more than a year to recommend changes and direction to the current policy but it has become politicized and motivated by self interest, Torre said. The council wants that work to conclude by this fall.

“There are many different people with different goals,” he said. “We need an equitable and incentive based historic preservation program … whether it is voluntary or involuntary, it doesn’t matter.

“We need to decide what the intention of our program is … what are we trying to accomplish with the program?” Torre added. “I think the program has been floundering for a long time.”

With the ever-changing economic climate, the city’s budget is a moving target. The council’s goal is to allocate financial resources to reflect choices that mirror community values and priorities for services – instead of across-the-board reductions in City Hall.

That should be reflected in a proposed budget by Oct. 1 that reduces resources in low-priority areas, as well as right sizes and maximizes efficiency within all City Hall departments. City financiers have committed to continuously monitoring the budget and making necessary revisions to react to changing economic conditions that threaten the Aspen’s fiscal well-being and the ability to deliver the expected level of service in high priority levels.

“We had the luxury of funding just about every great idea,” City Manager Steve Barwick told the council at the outset of the retreat. “Flexibility is key.”

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