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Former mayors debate merits of Base Village

Janet Urquhart
Waiting patiently for Wednesdays debate to begin, Bill Kemble, center, a Snowmass Village second-home owner, said he supports Base Village. "I made up my mind a long time ago," he said, "I'm for it, I just came to listen." Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Snowmass Village needs new development at its base and a stronger summer economy, two former mayors concurred Wednesday in a debate on the merits of Base Village. They agreed on little else.Town voters will decide the fate of Base Village on Feb. 3. Yesterday, former Mayor T. Michael Manchester urged residents to vote for the vibrant future the project represents, while former Mayor Jeff Tippett advocated the plan’s defeat so that a development plan that satisfies a larger segment of the community can emerge. Eighty-plus residents packed into the Town Council’s chambers to hear the former elected officials debate everything from the size of the buildings in the new Base Village to its impact on the existing Snowmass Mall and the development’s ability to boost the resort’s economy. The crowd included top Aspen Skiing Co. brass. The number of yellow “Yes! Base Village” buttons in the room outnumbered the orange “No Base Village” buttons.The Intrawest/Skico proposal for Base Village includes about 200,000 square feet of nonresidential space, including conference facilities, skier service areas, a children’s center, swimming pool and commercial space, along with about 800,000 square feet of condo and hotel space. Various on-mountain improvements are also part of the plan.The project, Manchester said, is the way to achieve the vision contained in the town’s comprehensive plan, summarized in a statement on the back wall of the Town Council’s chambers: “We aspire to be the leading multi-season, family-oriented mountain resort community.””It is an aspiration statement … which does not mean we want to be the biggest, but we want to be the best,” said Manchester, who headed the council when Base Village won approval last fall.

“I always felt it was unrealistic and overreaching – I don’t think that should be up on the wall, frankly,” Tippett countered. He questioned why Base Village ignores the numbers in the comprehensive plan, which calls for 35,000 square feet of commercial space, for example, as opposed to the 65,000 square feet slated for Base Village.”I think this Base Village emerged with the comprehensive plan already tossed off the table,” Tippett said.The council concluded the build-out numbers tacked on to the comprehensive plan aren’t enough to attain the vision it contains for Snowmass’ future, Manchester conceded.

The 65,000 square feet was as low as the town could go and still achieve a place where people will want to shop and dine, he said.”You need to have that jazz – Highlands doesn’t have it,” said Manchester, referring to the lack of critical mass to draw and keep people at the base area at Aspen Highlands.The town is banking on the retail centers of Base Village and the Snowmass Mall complementing one another, with a 90-second ride on a cabriolet lift to link them and a larger bed base to support them, Manchester said.But Tippett predicts the Base Village will steal businesses from the mall, leaving it with vacant storefronts.”There’s a lot of guesswork there – a huge leap of faith that allows you to believe there’ll be synergy,” Tippett said. “I think rather than synergy, there’ll be cannibalism.”Tippett also said the town ought to be figuring out how to generate a summer economy before it decides what it needs in a new Base Village; Manchester predicts the new development will help make Snowmass more than just a one-season resort.”They’re absolutely correct – we have to build summer,” Manchester said. “I think it’s a communitywide thing. It’s not the responsibility of the Aspen Skiing Co., but I think this project will help.”Without the new base, Manchester predicted more of the same for Snowmass, with businesses that struggle, and sometimes fail, to survive.”I don’t think it’s a doomsday deal, but I do think you continue to go backward,” he said.

Speculation about what other project might emerge, given the millions of dollars the Skico and Intrawest have spent on this application, is just that – speculation, Manchester said. Jim Crown of the family that owns the Skico has said no other proposal will be offered if this one is shot down.The Skico will come up with some other plan for the property, Tippett predicted.”It doesn’t make sense to let that lie fallow,” he said. “Even if they wanted to punish the community, I don’t think they’d punish the community for long.”The Base Village proposal is so divisive, half of the community is going to hate the project if it’s approved, Tippett said. A project that provides the many elements of the current Base Village proposal that everyone wants, but that can garner support from a larger share of the community, should be the goal, he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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