Editorial: Base2 lodge — something’s got to give
With the Base2 petition signed, sealed and delivered, and assuming Aspen City Clerk Linda Manning can certify 617 of the 1,312 signatures collected, the ball is now in Aspen City Council’s court.
There are two options on the table: The council can rescind the ordinance that approved developer Mark Hunt’s Base2 lodge proposal — which is more than two times the size of what zoning allows — or it can do nothing and let the voters decide.
Following the May election in which Aspen voters passed Referendum 1, mandating that all commercial land-use applications requesting zoning exceptions be sent to a public vote, the sentiment of Aspen’s electorate is clear: Voters in Aspen are sick of land-use exceptions they say are changing the character of the downtown core. Voters said in May they wanted development reeled in and that, to some extent, they no longer trusted the elected City Council to make the right decisions.
Hunt has said his Base1 project, a Cooper Avenue lodge concept approved in February, won’t happen without Base2 — that the two go hand in hand. Hunt also has said his Base2 lodge would remain affordable, around $200 per night, but has taken criticism from residents who question whether the affordable “good-faith assertion” will hold true. There’s nothing in writing that says Hunt will charge, or has to charge, a so-called affordable rate.
In the face of roughly 55 percent of the voting public expressing little to no confidence in the council’s decision-making with regard to commercial development, we believe the City Council should follow the will of the people and rescind the ordinance, similar to in summer 2014 when they withdrew Ordinance 19 — a lodge-incentive program that would have allowed four-story lodges near Aspen Mountain, as well as larger free-market residences, fee waivers and lower affordable-housing requirements.
The council listened then, and we believe it should listen now. But if council members choose to let the issue reach a special election ballot, we think Hunt needs to convince voters why this project should go through. Tell us why it needs to be 15,000 square feet in floor area rather than the allowable 7,500. Convince voters that building to the lot lines is the only viable way to build the lodge. Make voters feel reassured that the 15 off-site parking spaces — zoning calls for about 20 — won’t negatively impact the surrounding areas.
Affordable lodging is something the city has said it wants, but promises have been made in the past that haven’t held up. The Limelight was pitched as an affordable — or at least a middle-of-the-road— hotel option in town. The going rate there for a room this weekend on the discounted site Hotels.com is $618 per night.
We ask Hunt to convince the voters that Aspen needs more hotel rooms and that Base2 is the answer. Tell us what the community benefit is and why we need it — because there’s a list of more than 1,300 petitioners, and presumably more, who don’t see it. We’re seeing a community that’s fed up with too much development and too much back-scratching by the city for developers. We’re seeing an engaged, intelligent electorate that wants the best for a community they feel has been overrun with development.
Are the petition signers right about Base2? Maybe, maybe not. But without the council rescinding the ordinance, the responsibility falls on Mr. Hunt to make his case.
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