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Developer complains to critic’s bosses

Aspen Skiing Co. Director of Environmental Affairs Auden Schendler says he doesnt know why a developer complained to his bosses after he criticized a golf course project on his own time. Aspen Times photo.
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A Basalt golf course developer who felt his project was unfairly criticized by town resident Auden Schendler last month complained to Schendler’s bosses at the Aspen Skiing Co.Even though Schendler was acting as a private resident and not on behalf of the Skico, developer Jim Light contacted Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell and Skico attorney Dave Bellack, Schendler’s immediate supervisor. Light never complained directly to Schendler.Light said in an interview with The Aspen Times that he wasn’t trying to prevent Schendler from speaking out in the debate over the expansion of the Roaring Fork Club. That expansion is currently being reviewed by the Basalt Town Council.Light said he simply left a message for O’Donnell asking him to look at a letter that Schendler wrote that appeared in The Aspen Times on April 15. Light said he made the same request of Bellack when he saw the Skico attorney in a meeting unrelated to the golf club.Light said he was offended by Schendler’s letter because it implied that business people who spoke in favor of his project did so only because they had a personal stake in its advance. He said that was an untrue allegation.Light became agitated when asked why he felt it was appropriate to contact a critic’s bosses. Light said he didn’t want to argue with the reporter over the issue.”I didn’t think the statements [in Schendler’s letter] were fair. That was my point,” he said.Contentious debate in BasaltSchendler, the Skico’s director of environmental affairs, has placed the company in the national spotlight for its environmental positions and accomplishments. The company has recently earned accolades, for example, for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to do its part to slow global warming.

Schendler is also part of a small, vocal group of Basalt activists who want the Basalt town government to delay review of the Roaring Fork Club’s expansion proposal. The group noted that the land where the club wants to expand wasn’t examined in the town’s land-use master plan. They want to give residents a chance to determine how that land should be used when the master plan is updated this year.Schendler spoke against the golf club plan in a public hearing about the project on April 5. A week later, when the golf project wasn’t on the council’s agenda, about 12 Basalt businessmen attended a meeting and spoke in support of the project.Schendler wrote a letter to the editor April 15 raising questions about the supporters’ motives. “At Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, proponents trotted out a real estate agent, an architect and a builder in support of this project. This would sound like the beginning of a bad joke if I weren’t crying in my coffee. Hmmmm … why might these particular folks support a new development?” his letter read in part.Light said it was unfair for Schendler to suggest the supporters would somehow gain financially if the expansion is approved.Schendler said he doesn’t know what Light’s complaint has to do with the Aspen Skiing Co.”I don’t understand the connection,” he said. “At the Basalt Town Council, I’m not acting on behalf of Aspen Skiing Company.”Skico stands by their manBellack said his conversation with Light was brief. He confirmed that Light complained about the implications of the letter. The gist of the complaint was the letter was too shrill or too strident, according to Bellack.

He said Light didn’t ask him to make Schendler stop participating in the golf club expansion debate. Light said he never talked directly to O’Donnell. He just left a message.Bellack said the Skico encourages its employees, and all people, to get involved in politics and issues of their choice. Skico employees are urged to do so on their own time and on their own behalf, he said, and they are urged to play fair.Bellack said he reinforced with Schendler, after Bellack was contacted by Light, that he was welcome to participate in Basalt civic affairs on his own time. Schendler said that’s been a consistent message from the Skico.If there was an attempt to muzzle Schendler, it failed. He spoke again at a public hearing about the golf course Tuesday night.Schendler said the golf course expansion shouldn’t be reviewed because the current master plan discourages annexing land that is outside the urban growth boundary – an area identified as suitable for development. The land where the club wants to expand was left out of the urban growth boundary.Schendler and his allies contend that since the master plan process spurred a significant amount of citizen participation, its goals should be followed. They want the review of the golf club expansion to wait until the town master plan is updated later this year.That would give residents a chance to identify what they want to see on the land, without the pressure of having to rule on a specific application, Schendler said.Schendler’s letter: Respect master plan

Dear Editor:Currently, Basalt’s Town Council is being asked to void the 1999 master plan to allow for a new golf course and multiple trophy homes outside the town growth boundary in exchange for seven acres for affordable housing. The developer, which stands to make tens of millions of dollars, is even asking for the town to waive some impact fees.At Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, proponents trotted out a real estate agent, an architect and a builder in support of this project. This would sound like the beginning of a bad joke if I weren’t crying in my coffee. Hmmmm … why might these particular folks support a new development? Do they represent the same broad cross section of the Basalt community that spontaneously showed up the previous week? Of course not, because these folks were most likely brought to the table by a well-known local consultant formerly on the Basalt payroll and now working for the developer in question. The goal? Support amendments to the master plan, without the citizen input that would slow or stop the project.One of the beauties of our valley is the lack of continuous sprawl. The reason for urban growth boundaries is to preserve the urban core and protect the cultural and agricultural heritage of areas like Basalt. Urban growth boundaries also help protect open space, which is not the same as a golf course. Regardless of whether you think Basalt needs another golf course and more high-end homes, there is really only one issue here. It’s that the community-developed vision for Basalt, embodied in the master plan, the result of years of work, should not be thrown out the window without community participation. Another local development, Snowmass’ Base Village, was highly controversial, yet its infill, not sprawl. And unlike Basalt, that development was put to a vote of the people, twice. This proposed sprawl deserves similar community participation.Meanwhile, as usual, this new development is being pitched to the public against a worst case option. Do nothing, the fear-mongers say, and you’ll have a mass of sprawl with the density of Elk Run. But we’re not faced with that choice at all. At worst, with no changes, you’d have either ranch land or a few homes on 35 acres each. Meanwhile, the offer of space for affordable housing isn’t a must-take opportunity. There are other locations in Basalt to build affordable housing.Auden SchendlerBasaltScott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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