Parking garage taints election, Base2 foes say

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Opponents of Base2 Lodge said Tuesday developer Mark Hunt’s vow to build an underground parking garage taints the election process because it wasn’t part of the ordinance the Aspen City Council passed in June.

In the upcoming November election, Aspen voters will decide whether to reject or uphold Ordinance 1, which was approved by the City Council on June 1.

The ordinance addresses parking for Base2, but makes no mention of a subterranean garage. Instead, the ordinance left open the options of using the city-owned Rio Grande parking garage with the city manager’s approval, or 15 off-site and off-street parking spaces. In August, the council referred the ordinance to voters after a petition drive forced the council to either rescind the ordinance or have the electorate decide.

Hunt, through land-use planner Mitch Haas, wrote a letter to the city’s Community Development Department on Sept. 21 stating his intention to build a parking garage to accommodate at least 19 vehicles.

On Monday, the city offered its official position on the parking garage, saying Hunt’s letter is legally binding and he would be required to build the garage if voters approve Base2 in the November election.

“The council screwed up,” said City Councilman Bert Myrin, who was elected after Ordinance 1 passed. “They never should have punted on the parking issue and sent it to voters without addressing that.”

Myrin, an opponent of Base2, suggested Hunt’s parking garage pledge has created a “moving-target” scenario in the election. Aspen residents should only be voting on the ordinance the City Council approved in June, he said.

“This should be a clean election, and then afterwards we may try to figure out how to address the parking issue, and it will be in a public forum,” he said.

City Attorney Jim True, saying he would not take a political position on Base2, re-enforced the position of Community Development Director Chris Bendon, who told The Aspen Times on Monday that Hunt would be legally required to build a parking garage if voters approve the lodge, which would be constructed at 232 E. Main St., currently the home of a Conoco service station.

“We’re accepting this as a commitment on his part to provide parking onsite, and it is now an obligation of the applicant,” True said.

In an email to Mayor Steve Skadron on Monday, Bendon also opined that “Because this application and ordinance are still pending and subject to the approval of the voters, this letter submitted to the Community Development Department is a binding commitment on the part of the applicant. If approved by the voters, Base2 is required to build at least 19 parking spaces on site. Unless amended by council, the Community Development Department will deny any building-permit application submitted that does not provide underground parking. No further amendment to the ordinance is required to accept this commitment.”

Skadron said last week that he’s now supporting Base2 because of Hunt’s onsite parking commitment.

Myrin, who said Ordinance 1 “froze when it was passed,” said there are no architectural renderings or detailed plans about the garage. Rather, Hunt’s letter only expresses his commitment “to add on-site parking beneath the Base2 Lodge. This on-site parking will be located below the basement level and will be accessed via a garage door housing a vehicle lift off the alley. We envision a total of not less than 19 parking spaces being provided, 15 of which will satisfy the Base2 requirement.”

Another Base2 opponent, Marcella Larsen, said the parking garage is a ruse in a hotly contested election.

“I don’t think it matters,” she said. “It’s kind of a red herring. I think it’s great that they’ve figured out a way to make it binding, but the point that I think that is confusing people is that City Council has not approved the underground parking.”