Aspen Times Editorial: Dueling positions on Base2
October 21, 2015
Editor's note: The Aspen Times editorial board is split 3-2 on the Base2 vote. Because of the board's division, we're presenting a point-counterpoint editorial, which we believe accurately represents the arguments voters should consider when marking their ballots.
Let Base2 Be Built
The arguments for and against Mark Hunt's Base2 Lodge project have become convoluted. It's hard to gather what the true motivations are from the spokesmen against the project, and we feel Hunt has gotten caught in the middle of an attack against town governance. In last week's debates, we saw a lot of finger-pointing toward the Aspen City Council's approval process rather than actual arguments against the merits of the Base2 project itself.
Hunt has been criticized for his employee-housing mitigation of 1.6 workers for Base2, which meets the city's "lodge preservation overlay" formula. Hunt is meeting his obligation based on the zoning variance granted to him by the city. Developers always aim high, and it's up to the elected officials who review their projects to determine the proper course of action.
Hunt's buying up half the town, and there are many Aspen residents who don't like it. We think a person willing to invest in Aspen's future is actually a good thing. Referendum 1, which we endorsed, is meant to control the future of development in Aspen. It's a check and balance, and we think it'll do its intended job, but Base2 made it through the process before Referendum 1. We don't see how imposing a law retroactively on anyone is fair or democratic.
Next up is the affordable argument. Hunt says the project is affordable by design because the hotel isn't posh and the rooms are small. Market forces will determine how high or low the rates will go, and we believe the hotel will remain in the lower tier of market room rates in Aspen.
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Does Aspen need more beds? That's debatable. It certainly does during peak times when the town is bursting at its seams, but is that enough of a reason to build 37 new rooms? Again, we come back to market forces — a developer isn't going to build a hotel if he doesn't see a market for one. The economics of doing that don't make sense.
Parking will be built on-site, taking away the anxiety that Mayor Steve Skadron, who now supports the project, had when he voted against it. Hunt envisions a Limelight-style lobby where locals go to hang out alongside visitors. We like the sound of that. And a fresh, new building on that corner would be more visually pleasing than an aging gas station.
We don't need more designer stores or commercial space. If the lodge doesn't get built, Hunt has said he'll build a commercial building of the same general size. Who knows what types of tenants he'd find, but we can only assume it would be more chain stores, perhaps a pharmacy to compete with Carl's, or heaven forbid another high-end Rodeo Drive-type boutique.
Aspen must stay relevant. The "Keep Aspen, Aspen" folks would have us believe that Aspen can't ever evolve into anything but what it always has been. They were here first, and change must be stopped.
As a true destination resort that wants to capture business from coveted millennials, Aspen needs a lodge like this to accomplish that goal. The building — the size of a lodge with about 11 or 12 regular-sized hotel rooms ?? fits in with Aspen's character, and it's better than more commercial space. Voters shouldn't punish Hunt and this project because they're mad at the city. Don't miss the opportunity to add a good project to our town because you don't like the process. And next time, show up for one of the dozen or so public meetings during said process before it comes to this.
Wagering on Base2 is a losing proposition
Like any polarizing Aspen election, the one for the Base2 Lodge has the feel of a popularity contest.
• A vote for Base2 is a vote against Councilman Bert Myrin, City Hall critic Maurice Emmer and the other Aspen naysayers who have no flexibility — regardless of community benefit — when it comes variances for developers.
• A vote against Base2 is a vote against developer Mark Hunt exploiting the land-use code, the growth proponents who have no sense of Aspen's history and the entitled youth movement seeking relevancy in this I-was-here-first community.
Both examples are obviously extreme and unfair analogies. Unfortunately — and predictably — that's the posture the Base2 election has achieved.
Boiled down, question 2A asks voters whether they approve Hunt's Base2 Lodge on 232 E. Main St., where a gas station currently resides.
Base2 has been pitched as a 15,000-square-foot lodge with 37 small bedrooms, from 150 to 175 square feet. It would include a bar, restaurant, rooftop terrace and 19-space underground parking garage.
Aspen opinions are all over the place on this one and undoubtedly passionate, as well.
So what's a voter to do?
This segment of The Aspen Times editorial board urges voters to reject the Base2 proposal.
Location: Sure, if Hunt loses the election he can build another so-called box at the Main Street corner. And we're fine with that because Hunt would be required to construct the project within code.
About that code: The Aspen City Council in June gave Hunt a litany of variances, nearly tripling the allowable square feet to 15,000 for the lodge, rezoning the property with no setbacks and reducing employee-housing mitigation from 3.2 to 1.6. Is this the precedent the community wants to set — that the city codes mean nothing if our elected officials like a project or massage a developer into proposing one like Hunt's Base2?
Affordability: Proponents of Base2 have maintained it will be an "affordable lodge," a specious argument at best. There are no guarantees that Base2 will have an average room rate of $200 as its champions have argued. Visitors pay for the Aspen ZIP code, and with that comes prices higher than most every North American ski resort. That is a fact, and we're hard-pressed to see how Base2 will reverse that truth.
Overstuffed Aspen: It is true that Aspen hasn't built a new lodge in some 20 years. But how many more visitors do we want to cram into town? For argument's sake, let's give Base2 the benefit of the doubt and say it's a whopping success and consistently sells out during the high seasons. But with that influx of even more visitors, Aspen will be less Aspen and more Disneyland.
Add it all up, and a vote for Base2 is a vote for a high-risk project that might bring high rewards.
We realize that if Base2 is approved and built, it won't be the doomsday scenario the proposal's foes have claimed. But it certainly will signal a shift, for better or worse, in the community's mindset about unchecked development.
The Base2 election is an exhibition of democracy at work, and that's a good thing. We urge voters to reject this project. It is rife with too many gambles, assumptions and concessions.
Aspen deserves better. Vote "no" on Base2.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of Publisher Samantha Johnston, Editor Lauren Glendenning, Managing Editor Rick Carroll and community members Bob Braudis and Kathryn Koch.
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