Realtor, former ski instructor Mooney eyeing county seat
Concerns over the mixing of private business with city business convinced at least two City Council members to vote against Tim Mooney’s reappointment to the Aspen Planning & Zoning board in 1999.Mooney, who is trying to become a Pitkin County commissioner by unseating incumbent Patti Clapper, is a longtime local real estate broker who served on Aspen’s P&Z for nine years.Until he was fired by the Aspen Skiing Co. last year for cutting and removing trees on Aspen Mountain, Mooney was also known as the ski instructor to the rich and famous, with a client list that included the likes of Ted Forstmann and Jack Nicholson.The City Council members, who spoke to The Aspen Times on the condition of anonymity, say Mooney made an offer on behalf of a real estate client to purchase the Zoline ranch at the same time the city government and Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority were attempting to purchase the same property for the Burlingame affordable-housing project.A member of the Zoline family who also asked to remain anonymous said Mooney made an offer around the time they were in negotiations with the city and housing authority. As a member of the P&Z, Mooney was charged with advising the City Council on land-use issues, including anything proposed on the Zoline/Burlingame property that the city did eventually purchase.”We thought it was completely inappropriate,” the Zoline family member said.Mooney admits presenting offers on the Zoline land over the years, but steadfastly denies he did so during the negotiation or annexation process.”I presented Joe Zoline with an offer, and I was representing a buyer. It was before the time frame that his daughter and son-in-law were in negotiations with the city and housing authority,” he said.The City Council members also say Mooney the P&Z member presented a spirited challenge to the Music Associates of Aspen’s application to rebuild the Music Tent in Aspen’s West End, while Mooney the real estate broker showed MAA executive director Robert Harth alternative sites for the Music Tent.Records indicate he had some serious concerns about a new Music Tent and the effects the traffic and noise on residents of the West End of Aspen, where it’s been located since the 1949. Mooney admits he presented some alternatives to Harth while the matter was before the city, but insists he was simply trying to brainstorm ideas.”I had conversations with Robert Harth with options that I thought were creative ideas,” he said.In defending himself, Mooney points out that his livelihood is selling real estate, so of course he is going to make offers on behalf of clients for property they want ? even if there is a competing offer from some government entity.”Under no situation or terms have I used information I got from a public or private meeting to do a real estate deal,” he said.”He didn’t remove himself from either of those matters, and we didn’t think that was appropriate,” said one City Council member, explaining why he was turned down for a third term on the P&Z.Mooney stressed that he would never use information he’s privy to as a county commissioner for personal gain. “That would be unethical, and probably illegal. No one could get away with it,” he said.@ATD Sub heds:Hard-liner on the P&Z@ATD body copy:Mooney had a combative reputation on the P&Z ? he wasn’t afraid to say and do things that piss people off.One former planning commissioner member recalls Mooney shouting at Bill Kane, the soft-spoken director of development at the Skico, over a proposal to replace the Sundeck restaurant on Aspen Mountain.”I really think it contradicts what we’re doing here ? trying to have a sustainable community instead of a fantasy land,” Mooney said at one meeting in reference to some of the plans his winter employer had for the property, including nighttime dining.He also raised concerns about the project’s environmental impacts on the back side of Aspen Mountain, where the staging road for heavy machinery was located.Mooney was also known as a sharp critic of the Housing Authority.He was particularly critical of the Snyder Park affordable-housing project, located off Midland Avenue on Aspen’s east side. According to news reports from the time, Mooney and one other P&Z member reiterated their opposition one final time when it came up for final approval before the City Council in 1998. The P&Z had voted to recommended denial based on concerns over the design.One article reports that Mooney went so far as to suggest that the final design was a conspiracy between the Housing Authority and the city Parks Department, and ignored the real planning and zoning issues involved with the development. The City Council voted 3-2 to approve the project, in spite of Mooney’s and the P&Z’s objections.Mooney’s low opinion of the Housing Authority comes up with project after project, including Burlingame and Truscott. Nevertheless, it was he, along with then fellow P&Z member Tim Semrau, who suggested a large-scale housing project on the municipal golf course. The idea was shot down quickly.In an interview this week, Mooney said residential development and real estate sales are a big part of the local economy.”I think that obviously, with the Aspen Board of Realtors reporting a billion in transactions annually, real estate and real estate development are enormously important to the fundamental prosperity of Pitkin County,” he said.Mooney said his experience will help him balance the needs of developers with the costs to the county and its taxpayers. But he doesn’t see any way for the county to limit or discourage residential development on ranches.”According to state law, basically you can have a house on 35 acres. I don’t think the county can discourage state laws or state regulations,” he said.Mooney was, however, in favor of a growth initiative on the statewide ballot in 2000 that would have forced mid- and large-sized communities to develop plans to limit sprawl. If it had passed, ranchers would have had a harder time developing their land.Mooney was a member of the opposition to the proposed expansion of the runway at Pitkin County airport in the mid-1990s. He is currently involved with the citizen task force working on a new master plan for the airport, which may include extending the runway.The only real area in which he is willing to criticize the current county government is with its budget, which is currently facing a $2.5 million shortfall.He says the county’s problems are serious and blames the leadership for becoming too dependent on commercial development and sales taxes.”The current situation creates an opportunity for commercial developers to say you need us, so approve what I’m asking for,” Mooney said. “The county is losing the ability to draw the line on having a clean process.”Mooney’s solution is to convince the state Legislature to loosen up the constitutional restrictions so counties can raise property taxes and impose a real estate transfer tax.”Specifically,” he said, “I think big commercial development should be taxed differently than small commercial and residential.”@ATD Sub heds:Seeking Skico’s endorsement@ATD body copy:Mooney denied that he has any particular beef with the Skico. He was fired from the Aspen Mountain Ski School last year for cutting down trees in a powder chute located in a sizable stand of pines on Ruthie’s Run.In March, he pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, in connection with the incident. Skico has refused to give him his job back.”I love skiing in Aspen, and I hope the ski company endorses me. All my best friends are company employees. I hope they all vote for me, because we have so much in common,” he said.[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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Max Weintraub has been senior curator at the Aspen Art Museum since January 2019.