Snowmass should slow down on its transit center |

Snowmass should slow down on its transit center

A group of Snowmass Village residents thinks their town needs to slow down a bit with its plans for an $11 million “transit center” next to the Village Mall, and they may have a valid point.

Unfortunately, they have taken the wrong approach in their attempt to get the town to do the right thing. Their idea of requiring a special election for every large-scale public works project in Snowmass is a recipe for paralysis and should be rejected.

The proposed transit center, which would take the place of the old bus loading platform next to the Village Mall, would seem to be a vast improvement over the existing facility. It would include a new Town Hall office complex, room for some additional retail shops and some sort of conference facilities, as well as a bus turnaround and two multi-storage parking facilities.

It appears clear that the village leaders feel this would not only provide a better, more attractive place for buses to load and unload, but also a shot in the arm for the Village Mall businesses and the town’s economy in general.

Not to mention the fact that it would give the town government its first-ever real home and provide meeting facilities far more comfortable and versatile than the cramped room the council has been meeting in for years.

But the Village Council has been talking about a new transit center for more than two decades now, according to town officials, and more than 10 plans reportedly have been considered and discarded.

Given that history, it is understandable that those in charge want to finally get something done. Unfortunately, now is not the right time to rush ahead.

That is because there is now a new, very significant unknown factor involved – and that is the planned construction of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Base Village complex at the foot of Fanny Hill. Until the Skico’s plans are laid out for public inspection, it might be best to delay any further action on the proposed transit center.

And until those plans are made public, it is impossible to even guess how skiing and traffic patterns might be changed by the new development. It seems clear that the character of the entire Snowmass Village area may well change. Under the circumstances, the wisest action for the town would be to wait until the two plans can be considered jointly to minimize conflicts and redundancies in whatever is ultimately built. Doing anything else would be foolishness of the highest order.

The citizens’ petition drive seeks to have the town wait, and to that extent it is very valid. However, a second part of the petition effort should be abandoned.

According to the petition proponents, the idea is to require an election every time the town wants to undertake a large-scale public works project. The cutoff to trigger such elections, as discussed so far, would be around $4 or $5 million.

To enact this idea as law would be a form of municipal and organizational suicide.

Consider the acrimony and contentiousness that arise in this area over just about any issue, but particularly when there is public money involved. Then, think about the fact that as Snowmass grows, it will likely be faced with an increasingly frequent need to sponsor large-scale public projects. It’s a fact of civic life.

To require an election every time the town wants to build something bigger than a storage shed would paralyze the town council, polarize the electorate and serve no one.

The citizenry has adequate control over its government through the process of biennial elections, and through the public review of bureaucratic decisions and proposals at regular governmental meetings.

Enacting this provision would be an admission that we do not trust those we elect, and that we ultimately do not trust ourselves. And that is no way to run a representative democracy.

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