Hunt does about face, Aspen City Council eyes Base2 election
Aspen City Council is expected to decide today whether developer Mark Hunt’s Base2 lodge project will go to a November election following a bizarre turn of events at its meeting Monday.
Hunt, whose planner Mitch Haas informed the city by letter last week that he was pulling the project because of the opposition that emerged in a petition drive, told council members he was willing to take the project to a vote after all.
Hunt has until 4 p.m. today to notify the city that he plans to withdraw his withdrawal letter. After the meeting, he said that was his goal. If he follows through, City Council will meet again today to determine whether to take Base2 to voters. And from all indications, that’s what they’ll be doing.
While the council did not take official action at Monday’s meeting, a straw poll showed Bert Myrin as the sole elected official who wanted to repeal the ordinance on the spot. Myrin called the council’s decision “inexcusable” and closed his remarks by saying, “You can’t trust any developer in this town, especially Mark Hunt.”
The other four council members said voters should decide.
Mayor Steve Skadron called it a “case to give the voters to compare their respective principles. When we vote, we make the government and community better. I think voting is morally significant.”
Hunt’s flip-flop came as City Council members considered repealing their June ordinance approving the project, despite City Attorney Jim True’s recommendation that they didn’t need to take formal action because Hunt had yanked the project.
True’s reasoning was that because the ordinance has not taken effect — once the petition drive was launched, the ordinance was put on hold — there was nothing for the council to repeal. And, True noted, Hunt’s withdrawal letter legally sufficed as an abandonment of the project.
But Aspen activists such as Ward Hauenstein and Marcia Goshorn, who organized the petition effort, and Maurice Emmer implored the council not to leave anything to chance. Rather, they lobbied the council to either repeal the Base2 ordinance or take it voters — the two options they have after a certified petition seeks to rescind an ordinance.
“I think you need to stand up and make a choice,” Emmer told the council. “Because the people are watching you and what you’re doing.”
Hunt said he didn’t go the meeting with plans to back off of his withdrawal letter. But as Monday’s meeting started to reveal council had decided to go against True’s advice and either repeal the ordinance or let voters decide, Hunt was back in the game. That’s because, he said, he didn’t believe the very council that supported his project should go against it now.
“I didn’t want the City Council to make a decision they didn’t believe in,” he said.
Skadron and Councilman Adam Frisch appeared strongly in favor of a vote. Councilman Art Daily, however, was skeptical.
“Mark, I voted in favor of your project, … but we had enough signatures to take this to an election, and then last week you and your planner submitted a withdrawal letter, a very clear withdrawal and abandon/vacate of the application,” Daily said.
But Daily’s concerns were calmed after True said he gave Hunt the directive to withdraw the withdrawal letter.
The 15,000-square-foot Base2 project calls for 37 units. It would be built at the corner of Main and Monarch streets in the space currently occupied by the Conoco service station.
The lodge has been touted as affordable, with average room rates of $200 in the high seasons.
When City Council approved the Base2 ordinance June 1, it allowed Hunt to build it twice the size as zoning allows for that location, and it gave him waivers for housing and setback requirements.
Those concessions sparked the petition drive by Goshorn and Hauenstein, who argued that the ordinance defied the will of Aspen voters who approved Referendum 1 a month earlier in the May election.
The Home Rule Charter amendment mandates that the City Council no longer give land-use variances to downtown commercial projects on height, mass, parking, affordable housing and view planes. Development proposals out of scope with city land-use rules would have to go to voters.
True, however, said Referendum 1 didn’t apply to Base2 because Hunt filed the land-use application for the lodge before the referendum was passed.
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The flagship Limelight property (there are two others in Snowmass Village and Ketchum, Idaho) will undergo “top to bottom” renovations to all of the hotel’s public spaces as well as all 126 guestrooms and suites, according to a news release.