Meetings highlight community goals
July 19, 2006
People packed the Hotel Jerome ballroom Wednesday afternoon for the city’s first instant-feedback, citizen-input meetings.”I think it’s really a testament to how much people care, whatever side of the fence they’re on,” city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said of the more than 400 who turned out for the meetings.Each participant was given a remote to respond to about 70 questions on growth and development in Aspen. Results were tallied instantly for a snapshot of opinions.During the afternoon and evening meetings, most respondents were concerned with both the pace and character of development in Aspen, but of those, people thought character was more important.Forty-seven percent of respondents in the first meeting and 43 percent in the second thought the pace of development in Aspen was “overwhelming and degrading the quality of … life.”In both meetings, 45 percent wanted to see a balance in Aspen between a resort community and a year-round town.
Many people in both meetings seemed surprised at the response to a question about the number of events in town. Fifty percent at the first meeting and 44 percent at the second responded “Bring them on – they make Aspen the place that it is.”One participant at the evening meeting pointed out that it’s important to distinguish among the events.”I think the key is special events” like Food & Wine or the Comedy Festival. “They’re not really for [locals] anymore.”Also surprising to some, roughly 60 percent of respondents at both meetings “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement that “the city should have a stronger role in the design of buildings to make sure they relate to the existing character of downtown Aspen.” Facilitator Chris Gates posed the same question at the end of each two-hour meeting, and that number rose to several percentage points each time.In both meetings, more than 50 percent thought the city’s moratorium on building applications and development was a good idea, but about one-fifth thought it was a reaction to a booming economy. Roughly 15 percent in each meeting thought the moratorium was a bad idea.With regard to City Council’s handling of development applications, the bulk of respondents thought the council has been inconsistent and bends to last-minute pressure from those who show up at regular council meetings.
When the topic turned to lodging, an overwhelming 91-92 percent of respondents agreed that it is “very important” or “important” for the city to maintain diverse lodging choices for visitors with respect to price, location, quality and size, although the groups had a harder time agreeing on how to accomplish that goal.The city will post combined results of all 70 questions from both meetings today at http://www.aspenpitkin.com.
More than 400 people turned out for two public meetings Wednesday to give their input on development issues in Aspen.The city employed instant-feedback technology to elicit opinions, and those who participated were overwhelmingly in favor of the information-gathering process. The last question of the meeting asked how they liked the technology, and in both meetings, 88 percent chose the option “I can’t wait to do this again. Start on transportation as soon as possible.”The questions themselves, however, troubled a number of people, although most remained supportive of the idea.Les Holst, a local dedicated to historic preservation, called the questions “leading” and wondered whether city staff was the appropriate group to draft them. “At least everyone gets a feeling that they’re involved in the process, which is important,” he said. But after considering the results of the early meeting, he added, “Any 5-year-old child could have walked through town and come up with the same conclusions.”One participant, a “green” developer who chose not to give his name, agreed that “the questions were biased … and pointed toward anti-development – toward where town council is going, except for the mayor.”Denver consultant Chris Gates, who facilitated the meetings, helped craft the questions based on discussions at a series of small group meetings in June. He said he understood some of the public’s concerns about the questions but that there are limitations to a multiple choice setup.”It’s hard to get it limited to four or five choices,” he said. “Someone is always going to look at your questions and say, ‘I would have worded that a little differently.'”
Holst also questioned why the city didn’t include more questions specifically about historic preservation, but Gates said the issue was embedded in many of the questions about scale and character of buildings, even though they didn’t use that exact wording.Aspen developer Randy Egan also recognized the difficulty in writing good questions, although he wasn’t as troubled by it.”It’s hard to get a third-party, objective sense of how to structure a question,” he said. “It’s probably the toughest thing to do. … The answers for the multiple choice have to be fairly well thought [out].”He said he thought the process was worthwhile and wanted to see the city use it again, once it works out the snags.City staff is considering using the same process to invite public opinion on the Entrance to Aspen this fall.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org