Letter: Columnist butchered Power Plant facts

Editor’s note: The following letter was written to Beth Brandon regarding her commentary in Thursday’s Aspen Daily News.

I wanted to provide you with the facts of the issues surrounding what you call “the Incubator Power Plant” and how it came to be chosen by the City Council for potential tenancy at the Old Power House. You appear to be misinformed.

The Aspen Power Plant, APP, as it is formally known, applied through a formal request for proposal process in 2014. Applications from numerous entities were received and indeed vetted, but not by the council. An appointed citizens committee evaluated the various proposals and submitted four finalists to council. The APP was not one of those finalists.

Mayor Steve Skadron, who at the onset of the tenant search stated that it would be “inappropriate” to hand over the space to an organization “that has the wherewithal to operate in a private space,” apparently became enamored of the annual Fourth of July picnic held on the site by the Aspen Art Museum and “inserted” the APP and its plans for riverside revelry into final consideration. Yes, the APP had been vetted, but with said vetting, the APP didn’t make the cut. It was the mayor who put it back into contention.

I’m sorry that your frequent owl-spotting trips to the area have not given you an appreciation for the surrounding neighborhood in this quiet little pocket of town. You have every right not to like this neighborhood, just as you may choose not to live here. But it is a neighborhood. And it just so happens to be my neighborhood. You’re right, it is not a publicly subsidized neighborhood, but I found your implication that somehow this makes it less of a neighborhood patently offensive. I, along with my neighbors, value the views of the mountain and close proximity to the core from this quiet bend in the river every day.

Whether the APP will “ruin” the neighborhood is anyone’s guess. It is certainly not its intent. Nor is it the focus of the neighborhood’s objection at this point. We are all just curious when the APP, admittedly and proudly comprised of four for-profit entities, will obtain their tax-exempt status from the IRS. We have been waiting for over a year. And no, it’s not that we demand it, this is a requirement of Aspen’s land-use code for areas zoned public, such as the Old Power House. The 501(c)3 tax-exempt status is mandatory before a lease can legally be signed between the city and the APP. Sure, the request for proposal process allowed for-profit entities to apply, but the land-use code very clearly states the need for that very specific IRS status. It’s right there in black and white. (Perhaps this is why no other for-profit businesses applied.)

The proposed lease that everyone keeps hearing about can be negotiated ad nauseum, but until the APP has its required status from the IRS, no lease can be signed. If not a tax-exempt organization, the APP’s proposed and selected use for the Old Power House would be considered nonconforming to the existing code. Perhaps this is why the citizens committee weeded the APP out several years ago? I don’t know.

It will be interesting to see how the council proceeds. Do they continue to extend their wait period for the APP to obtain federal tax exempt status?

For how long? Or do they pass an ordinance that would allow for nonconforming use of the Old Power House? The selection of a potential tenant is just that, a selection. Nothing is legally binding until a lease is signed. But an ordinance is an entirely different matter, wrought with far-reaching and precedent-setting legal and political implications.

Next time, before you misrepresent a process or disparage a neighborhood, I encourage you to learn the facts.

Elizabeth Milias