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Developer of Marketplace withholds report

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Crystal River Marketplace developer Brian Huster refused Friday to file a campaign finance report, in spite of an order to do so from the town of Carbondale’s top elected official.

The standoff between the California developer and the town comes at the end of a hotly contested campaign over whether to allow Huster to build a “big box” mall in the empty fields between Colorado Rocky Mountain School and City Market.

Nearly 500 Carbondale residents voted last week during the early voting period; the remaining voters will have a chance to cast their ballot tomorrow at 7 a.m. (polling places can be found on page A7).

Huster and his unnamed partners have yet to file a campaign finance report, which identifies donors, amounts raised and how the money has been spent, missing deadlines in mid-June and the end of last week.

The group that is leading the campaign against the mall, The Town Mothers, filed its second campaign expenditure report with Town Clerk Suzanne Cerise Friday afternoon

The pro-Marketplace campaign has clearly spent a significant amount of money in the campaign, buying advertising time on both television and radio and taking out ads of all sizes in all of the valley’s newspapers.

Cerise sent a letter in late June or early July to Eric Gross, a Carbondale attorney from the firm Whitsitt and Gross that represents Huster and his partners. The letter explained that both she and an election official at the Colorado secretary of state’s office believe the pro-Marketplace campaign activities are not exempt from the campaign finance-reporting requirements under the state constitution.

Gross and Marketplace publicist John Tindall delivered a written response – without any expenditure or fund-raising information – just minutes before the town offices closed Friday afternoon, according to Cerise. Tindall and Gross declined to comment at the time.

In a story published in The Aspen Times last Thursday, Tindall said Huster and his partners are exempt from Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act because they are financing their campaign out of their corporate coffers. He said there is no campaign committee and there has been no effort to raise money from the public, so there is no need to report fund raising and expenditures.

“I think they should have to play by the same rules,” said Laurie Loeb, a Town Mother. “The more they refuse to disclose, the less trustworthy they appear to be.”

As of July 9, The Town Mothers had raised $11,489 in cash and $9,990 in in-kind contributions to support their effort to defeat the mall. Of the cash raised, $6,767 was spent, mostly on advertising, as of last Wednesday, leaving the campaign with $4,722 for the final week of the campaign. Most of the in-kind contribution, $8,240 of $9,990, came from Chandler Marketing, which has produced advertising for the Town Mothers. The remainder of the in-kind contributions have come from Hair Trix, the salon on Main Street that has been converted into a campaign and information office and a local printer.

Huster’s refusal to disclose his campaign finances falls in line with previous refusals to provide information.

When his application to build a 252,000-square-foot shopping center, with a 125,000-square-foot big-box anchor store, was before the Town Council, Huster repeatedly declined to provide any information about projects he’s built in the past or name his partners. He simply replied that he was not required to provide such information as part of the approval process.

Last February, the Town Council approved the project on 5-2 vote, which spawned formation of the Town Mothers and a petition drive to put the question of the shopping center before the voters.

Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com


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