S’mass preps for huge vote
Are the Candidates for Change really the Candidates for Skico?
“No way,” said Ted Grenda, one of three candidates who have aligned themselves as the Candidates for Change going into next week’s Snowmass Village Town Council election.
With the Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal for a Snowmass base village looming on the horizon, voters will seat a Town Council that will review the most significant development likely to come the resort’s way for some time.
The perception that the Skico will face an easier review of the project if the Candidates for Change prevail at the polls on Tuesday is “absolutely” out there, said Carolyn Sackariason, publisher of the Snowmass Village Sun.
“The Candidates for Change are the Skico candidates – no question about it – which is not to say the rest of us aren’t,” said Arnie Mordkin, a local attorney who’s seeking election to the council.
“We’re all here because of the Aspen Skiing Co.”
But if the Candidates for Change – mayoral candidate Grenda and council hopefuls Paul Fee and Dick Virtue – prevail, Mordkin wonders if the Skico will enjoy a stacked deck of support on the council. The Candidates for Change would form a majority on the five-member council.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to are definitely afraid of the slate,” said council candidate Bill Boineau. “They feel the Skico will have too much control.”
That perception, say Mordkin and Boineau, was fueled by a letter supporting the Candidates for Change written by Skico Chief Operating Officer Tom Norton and published in the Sun last month.
“There’s a perception that a business has taken a proactive stance in identifying the candidates that will support their views,” Boineau said.
The letter, countered Norton, was not an endorsement. In fact, the Skico executive made it clear in the letter that the company does not typically endorse candidates.
“But at the same time, the message from the Candidates for Change makes a lot of sense to us,” Norton wrote. In the letter, Norton noted the decline in business Snowmass has experienced during both the winter and summer seasons and the loss of commercial lodging in the resort.
“But we face a review process that appears intent on preventing new development, rather than recognizing the need for investment in Snowmass,” he wrote.
The Candidates for Change, he continued, recognize the need for reinvestment in Snowmass. “The Candidates for Change are inviting that reinvestment. We have not heard the same from others,” he wrote.
“To me, I look at that as sort of an endorsement,” said Sackariason.
This week, the Sun endorsed Mordkin and Virtue for council seats. “We don’t need two Skico picks on that board,” she said.
Grenda, however, bristles at the notion his party constitutes a Skico rubber stamp.
“We don’t want to provide them with a blank check, but at the same time, we’ll be reasonable,” he said.
When the Candidates for Change addressed Skico employees at an end-of-season barbecue in September, the trio “made them no promises,” Grenda said.
Other candidates are quick to note, however, that they weren’t given an opportunity to speak at the event.
That’s because they didn’t ask, said Norton, and the Candidates for Change did.
Nonetheless, he said, the Skico doesn’t expect the base village review to breeze through under a Candidates for Change majority.
“I think there’s a possibility it could actually go slower, not faster, because these guys want to come up with a strategy – a comprehensive plan for Snowmass – of which base village would be a part,” Norton said.
Early on, when the Candidates for Change slate emerged, the trio called for a broad approach to rejuvenate Snowmass, noted Norton. It was to involve the town’s major players – the Skico, the town government and the Snowmass Village Resort Association – and was to focus on the overall picture, not just the base village or any other single issue.
“After these guys started talking about their vision, all the other candidates started saying roughly the same thing,” Norton added.
Other candidates have definitely jumped on the bandwagon, Fee agreed. The Candidates for Change have expressed a desire to work with the Skico, but that doesn’t make them pushovers in a development review, he said.
“That sounds like a cheap shot because Virtue, Grenda and I happen to espouse a cooperative relationship with the ski company,” he said.
What the trio would bring to the table, he said, is probably a less adversarial environment than the Skico has encountered in the past.
The last time the Skico, with then-partner the Snowmass Land Co., brought a base village proposal forward, it was shot down after a lengthy and often contentious review. The 1996 denial led to a lawsuit against the town in which the base village partners prevailed.
Snowmass is anticipating a new proposal for the base of the ski area that includes tourist accommodations, skier service facilities, restaurants, retail shops and new chairlifts. Norton said he does not know when the company will unveil the plans.
The council that reviews the proposal, though, could well have a very different makeup than the current council. The seats held by Councilmen Kevin Costello and Mark Brady are up for election next week.
Brady is not seeking re-election, guaranteeing at least one new face. Vying for council seats are Costello, Fee, Virtue, Mordkin and Boineau, a former council member.
Seeking the mayor’s post are incumbent T. Michael Manchester, Grenda and Johnny Boyd.
In addition, Councilman Jack Hatfield is running for county commissioner. If he wins the county post and steps down from his council seat, the council would appoint his replacement.
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