Voters may get another shot at deciding fate of Bass Park
When Aspen voters rejected all four options set before them regarding the fate of Bass Park, they were reacting to a lack of leadership from the City Council, according to one local political observer.
But from all indications, at least some members of the City Council are still inclined to let the voters decide what to do about the property at Hopkins and Monarch, rather than make the decision at the council table.
The voters this week turned down four different proposals for what to do with the property, which was purchased for $3.4 million from the Bass family of Texas earlier this year in order to prevent its being developed as a commercial or private residential project.
However, the voters apparently do not want the city to sell the site to private developers; raise taxes to keep it as a park, either as a whole or in part; or build affordable housing on the site.
The purchase, which was made with money from the city’s affordable housing fund, has some worried that the city’s affordable housing program might suffer as a result of the loan for the park purchase.
“The leaders don’t know how to lead,” said local businessman Charlie Tarver. “Bass Park is a perfect example. There’s five of them there [on the City Council]; let them make a decision.”
Tarver and others have roundly criticized the council for failing to either choose a course of action, or ask voters what to do with Bass Park in a clear, concise way.
By putting four different questions on the ballot, the critics say, the council doomed the issue to confusion and, in all likelihood, another election to straighten the matter out.
Mayor Rachel Richards conceded this week that “we probably should have just proposed a single question.”
She said she had expected a citizens group to campaign for one position or another – either to keep the 18,000-square-foot parcel as open space, or build affordable housing on it – but that didn’t happen.
Now, she said, it is up to the City Council to figure out what to do next.
“I feel, at the very least, the city should make an interest payment to the housing fund,” in an amount that the fund might earn if the $3.4 million used to buy Bass Park had been invested instead, the mayor said.
Then, she said, the council may well move for another election, although she did not say what question might be posed to voters next time.
Asked whether the Bass Park questions are indicative of the council’s reluctance to take a leadership role on potentially controversial topics, Richards noted that there were “split opinions” among the council members about what to do with the parcel. The only point of agreement concerning Bass Park, she said, was the determination to keep it from becoming a commercial property or a free-market home.
Given that, she continued, “Without speaking with one voice, it’s best perhaps not to speak at all and see what the public wants to do.”
Richards and Councilman Tom McCabe both said they might favor holding another election in the spring to unravel the Bass Park knot.
McCabe, who said he would prefer to see “some kind of affordable housing” on the property, said the only question left for him is whether it should be all devoted to housing, or just half of it.
“I suppose we’ll go with some mix of affordable housing, but I don’t know what form that will take,” he said.
But while he indicated he would be willing to leave the decision up to the City Council, he also said he would “certainly look at” the idea of holding another election.
“Perhaps that would give us better direction,” he said.
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