Pitkin County District 5 candidates differ on approach to housing issue at ‘Squirm Night’ | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County District 5 candidates differ on approach to housing issue at ‘Squirm Night’

One of the candidates for the District 5 seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners had a decidedly different take Thursday on how to tackle affordable housing issues in Aspen and the surrounding county.

Jeffrey Evans, 68, said that since the county is fairly well “locked down” in terms of spaces to develop, and that any proposal to develop the remaining spots results in a fight, he’d ask employees of the county’s Open Space and Trails program to identify any open space it owns that might be better repurposed for affordable housing.

“It’s all location, location, location,” he said.

However, Evans said housing was not at the top of his list of issues to solve in the first place, because he pointed out the city already has three housing projects coming online soon and two more in planning.

“I don’t see how we press ahead before we see what happens this winter,” he said. “It needs to start snowing and it needs to start snowing soon. That could make COVID look like a block party.”

Francie Jacober, a former middle school teacher running against Evans for the seat that includes the Crystal River Valley portion of Pitkin County, disagreed and said Aspen will likely always be a desirable place to live, even if it offers only fake snow.

“Aspen needs a robust workforce,” she said. “(Affordable housing) is pretty high on my list.”

The two candidates met Thursday evening at the GrassRoots TV studio at the Red Brick Center for the Arts in Aspen for the traditional Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News-sponsored Squirm Night. Commissioner George Newman currently represents District 5, but must give up his seat after serving the three-term limit.

Aspen Times Editor David Krause and Aspen Daily News Editor Megan Tackett, who moderated Thursday’s forum, made sure to include a question about the most controversial issue in District 5: the proposed Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail.

The portion of the trail that would be built from Redstone to the top of McClure Pass is currently being considered by the U.S. Forest Service after Pitkin County commissioners narrowly approved it on a 3-2 vote in December 2018. The controversial section of the trail runs from the KOA Campground south of Carbondale to Redstone, and involves concerns about wildlife migration and cost, as well as issues from adjacent landowners.

Jacober said it’s the first issue she heard about when she decided to run for the District 5 seat, and it continues to be the issue she hears about most from district residents.

“People are either really for it or really against it,” Jacober said. “At first I thought the trail was overdesigned.”

At this point, she said she doesn’t have a “strong opinion” about the trail and is willing to listen to both sides, though she noted she didn’t see how wildlife migration wouldn’t be affected under the most recent version of the plan she saw.

Evans said he’s purposefully avoided details of the plan, but has serious concerns about its cost, which he’s heard runs from $11 million to $100 million. And, beyond that, he said he doesn’t know the answer to a main question about the project.

“Who really wants it to happen?” Evans asked.

When it comes to Pitkin County’s response to the pandemic, Evans said he’d give the effort a “five or a six.” He said he thinks the county should have concentrated more on focusing resources on “people who are high-risk.”

Evans also said the fact that people wear different types of facemasks “drives me crazy.” He pulled out an American flag bandana and a N-95 facemask to illustrate the difference, which he said most people don’t understand.

Jacober gave the county an eight for its response, which she said was the best officials could do with limited information and support from the federal government.

“It was difficult and I think the BOCC did a good job,” she said. “I’m a little nervous about how we will do this winter.”

In the end, Evans — who’s lived in the area since 1970 and admitted he is mostly known for his affiliation with the Entrance to Aspen issue — urged people who want an “unabashed advocate for fixing the Entrance to Aspen” and someone who can bring “a different point of view to the job” to vote for him.

Jacober pointed to her years as a middle school teacher at Aspen Country Day School, an advocate for agriculture and someone who’s run restaurants and an outfitting business in the Roaring Fork Valley for 27 years as qualifications for sitting on the county board.

“There are very few places as wonderful as the Roaring Fork Valley,” she said.


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Jeffrey Evans’ statement on housing not being a top priority is because of the city’s projects coming online soon and in the development stages and not a reference to climate change.


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