Decision on Bidwell Building hits snag

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” City officials’ failure to adequately disclose the opinions of residents regarding a major redevelopment in downtown Aspen has stalled the fate of the project.

The Aspen City Council on Monday refrained from making a decision on a proposal to demolish and rebuild the Bidwell Building, also known as the Mountain Plaza Building, located at the corner of the Cooper Avenue Mall and Galena Street.

That’s because at least three council members received e-mails from residents about the project, but they failed to enter them into the public record by submitting them to City Clerk Kathryn Koch or bringing them to the public meeting.

City Hall has no formal procedure to submit e-mails into the public record, which is a growing problem, said City Attorney John Worcester.

“We’ll work on a solution to this problem,” he told the council.

The council was expected to vote Monday on the proposal to convert the existing two-story building plus basement into three stories with parking underneath. The mixed-use building would house commercial and office space on the street level, with additional space on the second level, which would be shared by three affordable-housing units. The third level would be three free-market condos of 2,000 square feet each.

The corner, which also is home to Paradise Bakery across the street, has been noted by many residents to be the most prominent corner in the downtown core. The existing building has an open area that looks down into the subterranean space where Noori’s Collection is located currently.

After a half-hour presentation by the project’s planner, Mitch Haas, City Councilman Jack Johnson disclosed that he had received several e-mails and planned to reference them during his decision-making process.

The problem arose when it was discovered that no one else had seen those e-mails, which prompted City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss and Mayor Mick Ireland to disclose that they also had received e-mails from residents about the proposal.

The delay is frustrating to building owner Mark Bidwell, who for nearly three years has gone through the government review process for his redevelopment plans. He thought Monday night would be the final decision.

“This is supposed to be a professional staff and a professional council. … It’s inexcusable,” he said after the meeting. He wondered why council members couldn’t take a recess and retrieve the information Monday night and then resume the meeting.

His attorney, Jody Edwards, tried to persuade the council into making a decision by saying that he and his client waive the right to see the residents’ comments.

But Worcester and the council agreed that it was only fair that the rest of the public be privy to the content of those e-mails.

Edwards also asked the council to make a decision without considering the e-mails, similar to a passerby on the street making a quick comment.

But the council and Worcester said that wasn’t possible because those residents have a right to be heard in public.

“I don’t see how we could make a decision, it would be a disservice,” Ireland said. “We have an incomplete record.”

Edwards asked if there could be a cutoff time for future e-mails before the next public hearing regarding the development proposal.

Worcester responded by saying the public is not bound by the city’s rules and procedures, and can submit a comment minutes before a council meeting and have it be read in public.

The issue for city officials to resolve is how written comments sent electronically are tracked and entered into the record in a timely and organized fashion.

Haas said he understood the dilemma, but said he’s concerned that it could be used as a delaying tactic in the future by those who oppose the project.

The council and Worcester said they would work on finding a solution. The public hearing was rescheduled for May 27.


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