Crown lays down the law on Base Village | AspenTimes.com
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Crown lays down the law on Base Village

Steve Benson

When Aspen Skiing Co. owner Jim Crown spoke to local residents about the future of Snowmass Village late last month, he warned that if the Base Village proposal is rejected – either by the Town Council or the citizens via a referendum – he wouldn’t return for a second attempt.Essentially he issued an ultimatum to “approve Base Village, or we walk away.” The reaction was somewhat surprising. Applause greeted several local residents who expressed their support for the Skico project. In a drastic change from six months ago, there did not appear to be any serious opposition to Base Village, a joint proposal by the Skico and resort developer Intrawest. Last winter, a group of concerned citizens launched an initiative ordinance to derail the huge base-area development, which is designed to revitalize Snowmass with 64,000 square feet of commercial space, 349 condominiums and 264 hotel rooms. The citizens lost the election by 64 votes and have been silent ever since.And as the Town Council’s final decision on Base Village nears, some wonder whether the opposition has given in.Said Mel Blumenthal, a second-home owner who supports the project, “I would love to believe in Santa Claus and fairy tales, but I’m not sure about the community’s reaction yet. I’m pretty convinced there will be a referendum.” “Opposition to Base Village is alive and well,” said Jeff Tippett, a former Snowmass Village mayor and the chairman of Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), which launched the initiative. “I would say I believe a referendum will take place; it’s definitely on our list of alternatives.” Tippett has attended Town Council meetings and offered his opinions from the beginning. But since the initiative was voted down, Tippett has been silent and no longer attends the monthly community forums.”I haven’t been speaking up, and I didn’t go to Crown’s presentation because he made it clear he wasn’t interested in what anybody thought,” Tippett said. “He doesn’t care what the community thinks. This is a profit opportunity for him and nothing more.”He’s the lord of the manor, and he’s come to lay down the law to the serfs.” But Crown said profits are not on his mind at the moment. Instead, he claims he’s focused on saving Snowmass, which is lagging behind ski-industry competitors with new villages like Beaver Creek. Base Village, Crown added, would be the greatest financial risk of his business career. But John Francis, who owns part of the mall and thinks Base Village as proposed is way too big, doesn’t think that’s the case. “It’s not like they need the money,” Francis said, adding with a laugh that if the Crowns were really putting themselves at risk, they could “sell a jet.”Francis said the opposition is still strong and that a referendum remains a strong possibility. “Right now, I would call a referendum a flip of the coin,” he said. Opposition members have been silent, Francis said, because their voices are being ignored – not by the Skico and Intrawest, but by the Town Council. “They represent the developer, that’s all they represent,” he said, adding that the council has “changed all of the town codes into what the developer needs to do the job.” Local resident Paul Benton applauded the Skico for its efforts to revive Snowmass but agreed with Francis that the Town Council is not doing its job. “Skico leadership has behaved honorably throughout this process, understandably employing strategies that best promote its business interests,” he said. “The problem isn’t Skico. It’s the council.” Benton may support Base Village depending on the resolution of parking, traffic and employee housing issues. He has a problem, however, with a town government that he believes has ignored the voice of the opposition and therefore has failed to represent the community. “There’s not a single voice on the council anywhere close to Jeff Tippett’s, even though Jeff’s concerns seem to be shared by at least half of the voting community, judging by the 374 people who voted for his initiative,” said Benton, who is not a member of CRG. “This lack of balanced representation may explain why a referendum may be inevitable.”Still, in the past few months, those who support the project have criticized the council for delaying the project. At the forum, some citizens asked Crown what they could do to make sure the council approves Base Village, claiming that the project is in the best interest of the community and the resort. Mayor T. Michael Manchester has routinely stated that the council has not made a final decision and several key issues still need to be reviewed. Carey Shanks, the economic resources director for the town, said it all boils down to whether citizens want to follow through with the goals and aspirations they laid out in the town’s comprehensive plan two years ago. That aspiration: “To be the leading multiseason, family-oriented mountain resort community.”Said Shanks: “We are something less than a premier resort today. What it takes to be a premier resort and a community is what is on the table.”Tippett feels the community aspiration is a sham. “That leadership forum was packed with Skico people,” he said. But Shanks said if Snowmass wants to restore some of its vibrancy, as either a resort or a community, Base Village is necessary. “You can’t afford to run this community, and all its amenities and infrastructure, unless you have the resort,” he said. And the resort side of the equation, he believes, is dying.”Base Village is what we believe it takes to [revive Snowmass],” he said. If it turns out that the goals and aspirations don’t truly represent the community, Shanks said they will adjust and move forward. “[But] we need to get on with the responsibility of the leadership to make some decisions,” he said. “Once those decisions are made, you’re going to find out where people stand.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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