Mayoral hopefuls voice views on range of issues
Bill Stirling wants to keep big buses out of town, Michael O’Sullivan supports the idea of more “resident occupied” housing for the middle class and Helen Klanderud feels that “government by consensus” has failed to solve local problems.
Rachel Richards believes cooperation between Aspen and other valley governments is increasingly important to the health of the entire region.
Those opinions and many more came out at the Aspen Valley Improvement Association’s two-hour mayoral forum Tuesday night at the Wheeler Opera House.
In a relatively amicable non-debate, the four candidates seeking to be Aspen’s next mayor answered questions posed by AVIA and from some of the approximately 100 local citizens who showed up to learn more about who to vote for in Aspen’s May 4 municipal election.
It was a wide-ranging discussion touching on a wealth of hot local issues, from candidates’ positions concerning the planned light-rail system between Pitkin County Airport and the center of town, to questions about government’s role in such activities as building affordable housing and providing day care for children (everybody favored both programs).
One clear area of disagreement among the candidates came in the area of transportation. Only Richards, an incumbent City Council member, firmly endorsed the idea of a light-rail system. Former Mayor Stirling and political newcomer O’Sullivan both rejected the plan, while former Pitkin County Commissioner Klanderud indicated she is straddling the fence on the topic.
All of the candidates were asked whether they favored reopening the “record of decision” by the Colorado Department of Transportation, which calls for construction of two lanes of car traffic, two bus lanes and room for a light-rail line between the airport and the center of town, and a new entrance to town across the Holden-Marolt open space.
Klanderud, O’Sullivan and Richards all said they would not reopen the debate, while Stirling failed to answer the question directly but said he preferred the idea of expanding the existing “S-curves” entrance into town to four lanes and forgetting about building a new highway across the open space.
All four candidates said they support the concept of building affordable housing. But while O’Sullivan talked about the controversial “RO” housing, which is the most expensive category being developed, Stirling said he sees a need for more low-cost housing.
On whether the actual construction of housing should be up to the private sector or left in the hands of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, Stirling, O’Sullivan and Klanderud all expressed a preference for the private sector. Richards said the housing office already uses the private sector for some aspects of each project, but warned that there have been problems in the past when projects were turned over to private builders or owners.
Recently, there has been talk of building housing on the municipal golf course, and realigning the golf course to move some of the holes across Highway 82. None of the candidates favored that approach, although Stirling and Richards both argued for expansion of the Truscott Place townhomes without disturbing the layout of the golf course.
All the candidates liked the idea of adding housing onto existing buildings in town, but Klanderud adamantly opposed the idea of building affordable housing on the recently acquired Bass Park property near the commercial core.
Asked about proposals to link the local ski areas by gondola systems, only one candidate, O’Sullivan, clearly endorsed the idea.
“The last time I checked, we were a ski town,” he quipped, arguing that gondolas would cut down on traffic congestion and be good for the tourism business. Richards and Klanderud endorsed a gondola between Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk, while Stirling suggested the Aspen Skiing Co. would be better advised to lower the price of its lift tickets as a way to improve business.
Also on the subject of business, Stirling, O’Sullivan and Richards clearly advocated a greater emphasis on helping keep small, local-serving businesses in Aspen. O’Sullivan lamented the city’s inability to go through with the “Superblock,” a proposed massive commercial development on Aspen’s east side.
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