Mayoral candidates do battle
ASPEN If the first debate in the second round of the mayoral race was a boxing match, it would likely have ended in a draw between Mick Ireland and Tim Semrau.The two squared off in an Aspen Chamber Resort Association-sponsored debate Tuesday in the GrassRoots TV studio. While the two candidates continued to separate themselves on many issues, their positions have remained similar to their campaigns for the May 8 election. Ireland and Semrau have two weeks left before the runoff election June 5 to convince voters they are the best man for the two-year position, which pays $33,036 a year.Debbie Braun, president of the ACRA, served as the moderator in Tuesday’s 45-minute debate, asking questions ACRA members posed. Members of the audience had the last 15 minutes to ask questions.Braun lobbed the decades-old question of whether Aspen has lost its soul about midway through the debate; both candidates had similar thoughts.”I’ve been hearing that for 30 years, it’s not new,” Ireland said. “It’s true we’ve lost some things, but when I go to other resorts, they’re envious of our affordable housing.”
“But what has happened to The Red Onion and what might happen to Little Annie’s, these are not good things.”Semrau said Aspen has a new soul that should be embraced and protected.”Soul is about people; have we lost it?” he said. “No. Has it changed? Yes.”There were no surprises regarding the candidates’ positions on the environment, affordable housing, the issues facing Aspen and their visions for the resort and the city.Ireland said his vision is to keep Aspen a sustainable resort with a significant number of local workers living within the city, a viable economic structure and plenty of lodging for guests. He also added that the city government must take the lead in environmental sustainablity.”We have to be in the fight for global warming; we lose the equivalent of one day of skiing a year because of global warming,” he said.
In terms of development pressures and the lack of affordable housing, not everybody can get what they want, Ireland said.”We have to be willing to make sacrifices that may be inconvenient,” he said. “We need people living here but not everybody can live here because we can’t house everybody. There is a balance that I believe we can strike.”Semrau went one step further by saying that “sustainable excellence” is his vision for Aspen. That means the city government must manage the city’s prosperity competently and control growth responsibly.Neither of the candidates is particularly fond of the City Council’s most recent version of the land-use code amendments, which would change the management of development downtown.Semrau believes the new laws, which the council was expected to approve Tuesday night, miss the boat because they don’t establish the construction stress load for the entire town.Ireland said policy-makers need to be careful about allowing residential development to occur in the commercial and lodging core. The result is the proposed Lodge at Aspen Mountain, on which developers have given the City Council an ultimatum: Either approve an 80-room hotel or they will build townhomes, for which they already have development rights.
However, Ireland said he would prefer to see lodge rooms at the base of Aspen Mountain. But he said he is concerned about the height and mass of the building, as well as the stress it would put on the town during construction.Commercial real-estate agent Ruth Kruger asked the candidates what they would do to circumvent the doubling of taxes on downtown properties, which would be passed onto the tenants.Semrau suggested cutting the mill levy. Ireland said the it could be cut but that citizens must decide what government services they would like to see cut as a result. He said the larger is issue is that Aspen is threatened with losing millions of dollars in sales tax revenue with the construction of more fractional ownership units.Braun suggested that with a town full of the “haves” and “have-nots,” the mayor’s job is to encourage collaboration and bring all sides together. She asked how Ireland and Semrau would bring people together on contentious issues.That’s when the heat rose between the two candidates, who didn’t see eye to eye on whether city officials did a fair job saving places like the Hotel Jerome, the Isis Theatre or The Red Onion.Semrau said it’s the City Council’s job to protect its assets before they are gone and work with the private sector to help maintain them.
“I think it’s crucial for the mayor to have roots in all sectors of the city,” he said. “The mayor must listen to them without judging them.”Ireland referred to his leadership style while he was a Pitkin County commissioner.”I’ve got a pretty good insight on what people want,” he said. “I think I have done well listening as a county commissioner, but I’m not always in agreement with interest groups.”Braun asked how, as mayor, the candidates would convince the private sector to buy into City Hall’s Canary Initiative, which in part focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Semrau said more policies should be put in place like the green energy bill that passed four years ago when he was on City Council. The bill mandates a specific environmental footprint for large homes, meaning less resource use. It was intended that second-home owners find ways to lessen their consumption with technology such as solar panels. He added that City Hall could do more to use environmentally friendly technology in its own development projects, much like the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing development.Ireland said reaching out to the second-home owners is key. He suggested that City Hall encourage second-home owners to be more environmentally friendly by paying for surveys of their homes to see how they could cut back on resources.
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