Housing, open space dominate ‘Squirm Night’
The issues of affordable housing and open space dominated a forum Wednesday for three candidates running for the only contested seat on the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners in next week’s primary election.
Greg Poschman, 56, Hawk Greenway, 56, and Scott Writer, 58, each want to replace Commissioner Michael Owsley on the board. Owsley, who is serving his third term on the board from District 3, is term-limited and cannot run again.
Poschman, Greenway and Writer gathered at the Grassroots TV studio at Aspen’s Red Brick Recreation Center on Wednesday afternoon for a so-called “Squirm Night” hosted by Aspen Times Managing Editor Rick Carroll and Aspen Daily News Editor Curtis Wackerle.
And while the proceedings didn’t elicit much squirming among the candidates, mildly tense moments did arise when Poschman criticized Greenway, a longtime member of the county’s Open Space and Trails Board, for dabbling in real estate and remaining on the open space board for too long.
Poschman, a producer and filmmaker, criticized Greenway for building a 1,000-square-foot cabin on a mining claim on the backside of Aspen Mountain, then selling it for sizable money. County commissioners often deal with land-use issues, and such development raises conflict of interest questions, he said.
“Hawk bought and sold many acres back there and developed it,” Poschman said. “I want a county commissioner that can look from the outside in on (development and real estate issues).”
Greenway defended himself, saying he’s been called “a one-man conservation board.” He said he obtained a conservation easement on one parcel and was able to preserve the historic Little Annie Mine on Aspen Mountain. He admitted building the cabin, but said he needed a place to live with his son and resided in the cabin for 15 years.
“I think my record stands on its own there,” Greenway said.
Still, Poschman countered that he wasn’t comfortable with an Open Space and Trails Board member and possible county commissioner “closing deals with mining claims.” Further, he suggested imposing term limits on Open Space and Trails Board members because he’s heard from people in rural areas of the county that the board has become arrogant.
“It does seem like an old boys club,” Poschman said.
Greenway said the Open Space and Trails Board “really goes to great lengths to reach out to the community” and cultivates a collaborative process with residents and landowners to come up with the best plan for each open space project. As for term limits, arbitrarily kicking off volunteer board members is a bad idea, he said.
“The concept of term limits on volunteerism — I find that absurd,” Greenway said.
Writer, who has also worked in real estate, called Poschman’s criticism of Greenway’s real estate ties “a bogus call.” He said he doesn’t believe that just because someone works in the real estate field constitutes a conflict of interest.
Writer also said he agreed with Greenway that term limits on volunteer boards were unnecessary because if problems with a member arise, the board of commissioners doesn’t have to reappoint them.
Poschman also criticized the open space program because it emphasizes “urbanization and trails” over protecting wildlife habitat and breeding grounds. Mountain bikers routinely “jump fences” on trails closed for elk calving, which is something wildlife experts are concerned about, he said.
Greenway pointed out that Sky Mountain Park, for example, had been slated for nine or 10 “mega-mansions,” which “would never be closed,” he said.
“You’d have lost that wildlife habitat,” Greenway said.
Affordable housing in the county also was a common theme.
Writer and Greenway both addressed the issue of retirees remaining in affordable housing. Greenway said he didn’t think it was a big deal because those units would eventually make it back into the affordable-housing inventory. More important is to continue to grow the program, he said.
Writer said he’d like to provide incentives to retirees to move into a smaller unit that may carry a different affordable-housing designation like “resident occupied,” which could end up being worth more than their original unit. He also suggested buying down free market units and reclassifying them as resident occupied to increase the stock.
Still, Writer said, “Pitkin County doesn’t carry its weight in the (affordable housing) program.”
“It’s time for the county to get involved in the program,” he said.
Poschman agreed with that sentiment, saying he’s been told the county “doesn’t have much of a voice” in the Aspen-Pitkin County affordable-housing program.
“Perhaps we need to involve ourselves more in the process,” he said.
And while Poschman said he thinks the program has worked well, he asked, “How big do we want to grow?”
Writer also said he’d support allowing teachers to have a greater shot at obtaining affordable housing. Poschman also said he would support a similar idea of an “essential services” personnel receiving a better chance of getting affordable housing.
Greenway, on the other hand, said that while his wife is a teacher, he wouldn’t support such a plan. He said he doesn’t think specific people should receive precedence.
Greenway and Poschman are running as Democrats, while Writer is running as an Independent. The primary election is June 28. The top two vote-getters will run against each other in the November general election.
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A meeting with state public health officials Monday afternoon revealed new metrics for smaller population counties and good news for Pitkin County.