Lodge ordinance criticism sparks Aspen chamber board comments

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Monday night’s Aspen City Council decision to rework the new lodge-incentive ordinance fueled a lot of comment at Tuesday morning’s Aspen Chamber Resort Association meeting.

The ordinance, which passed on Aug. 11 by a 3-2 margin, was shaped over the last two years by city staff, council members and representatives of the lodging and business communities. Some chamber board members pointed out on Monday that anyone, including development critics, could have attended the numerous meetings at City Hall over the last couple of years to provide input on the ordinance.

The insinuation was that hardly anyone outside of City Hall or the development community got involved, but now that the ordinance has passed, the critics are turning the issue into a game of political football in advance of the next round of municipal elections in the spring of 2015.

“There is a lot of fear and misinformation out there,” said Donnie Lee, ACRA board chairman and general manager of The Gant.

Lee said that despite what the critics are saying about the ordinance leading to “monster hotels” — they have launched a petition drive to attempt to send the issue to voters — it was actually focused on rejuvenating the city’s sagging hot-bed base in small ways.

Its primary goal wasn’t about building four-story lodges near Aspen Mountain, constructing larger free-market residences and decreasing affordable-housing requirements, incentives that found their way into the ordinance, many board members suggested.

“We need to find common ground,” Lee said.

Chamber President and CEO Debbie Braun echoed that sentiment, and said the council meeting proved the need to talk to more people in the community — “not just our constituents” — about the goals of the lodge-incentive ordinance.

“Renewal causes friction and I think we’re seeing that on a number of fronts,” Braun said. “We don’t want to have a slugfest over the next eight months over community values and long-term planning.”

Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, who opposed the ordinance, and Councilman Dwayne Romero, who supported it, both attended Tuesday morning’s chamber board meeting at the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel.

Romero noted that the ordinance contained a sunset provision requiring reevaluation in five years. The provision was designed to be a defense against the perception that the ordinance was similar to the “infill” legislation the city adopted more than a decade ago. Infill sparked large numbers of development projects until it was deconstructed two years ago.

“Most of the folks in the (council meeting) room last night had no clue that there were going to be metrics and measurements and feedbacks and course corrections in the midst of implementation” of the lodge-incentive ordinance, Romero said. “No one was probably aware that this thing has a five-year window.”

He added that a temptation exists to wage a fight that critics appear to be asking for.

“I think the ‘Jedi mind trick’ might be maybe to acknowledge that the emotion and the anger is not going to advance the community’s will in a positive way,” Romero said. “We want to put the emotion aside and we want to continue a quality conversation. It’s that important.”

A community consensus on the lodge ordinance should be reached, “even if it means breaking things apart and focusing on those parts and pieces that have the ability to achieve traction and progress,” Romero said. “I find that to be a more constructive route than going to war.”

Maria Morrow, an Aspen attorney who chairs the chamber’s public affairs committee, was heavily involved in the discussions that led to crafting the ordinance. She said there was always a general feeling among those involved in shaping the lodge-incentive program that it didn’t include enough incentives for any developer to want to create a large new hotel.

“Regardless of that fact that it was an imperfect product, there was a general feeling among council that it was a step in the right direction,” she said, “but that what we would do is monitor it along the way … and that we would be revising it and tweaking it.”

She said board members shouldn’t become dismayed by the thought that the ordinance likely faces revisions.

“I want everyone to understand that it was something we knew that we would be doing when we adopted it and that it was a baby-step program,” she said.

Morrow said it seemed that the five or six vocal opponents of the lodging ordinance who spoke out at Monday’s council meeting were “asleep at the wheel” during the process. Now, somewhat after the fact, they are “spreading some misinformation about what (the ordinance) really does.”

“It seems like it’s becoming a circus, but it’s a few people who don’t understand that this was baby steps, they don’t understand how some of the (ordinance) works,” she said. “I think there’s just a little bit of misinformation by people who weren’t paying attention.”

The council was expected to revisit the issue at a continuation of Monday’s meeting set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26. See Wednesday’s Aspen Times for continuing coverage of the issue.