Letter: Consider the consequences
The petition hysteria has begun. As residents work to rescind the ordinance that grants nominal floor-area-ratio variances, parking waivers and subsidized housing mitigation to Mark Hunt’s Base2 affordable-lodging project on Main Street, the misinformation is free-flowing at rates unparalleled even in the spring runoff of the Roaring Fork. The “no variance” cabal is screaming “huge building,” “no on-site parking” and “no housing mitigation.” All of these statements are patently false.
The beef this group has is that relatively small variances were granted to a project already in the pipeline when Referendum 1 passed May 5. (The referendum prevents the City Council from approving variances in the commercial core; rather, the variances must now be put to a public vote to ensure that the community gets something for any development concessions outside the code.) The city attorney and outside counsel have already stated that laws such as Referendum 1 are not retroactive. So the attempt is now to unwind the ordinance with a public petition. And, given the “anti-variance” sentiment in town, this effort will surely succeed.
Before jumping on the petition bandwagon, however, I caution you. Read the ordinance, and study the variances it grants for yourself. The community (and the Aspen Area Community Plan) has been begging for affordable in-town lodging for years. How Hunt has figured out how to make money on not one but two small, affordable lodges is anyone’s guess, but he obviously has created a model that works. Yes, there are concessions, just as in life there are gives and there are gets. One of the variances granted concerns augmenting the hotel’s on-site parking with off-site spots, perhaps a block away at the Rio Grande garage. For anyone who has traveled, it is very common for a hotel to say to its guests, “Please call down 10 minutes before you need your car, and we’ll bring it around.” This is hardly a big deal. And the subsidized housing mitigation required is slated to be paid in housing credits. If housing credits are not effective, then let’s abolish them across the board.
The status-quo/no-variance group is in for a day of reckoning. There is no longer a status-quo option. Make a few concessions now (and these are relatively small), and get something the community has been asking for. Otherwise, guess what — Hunt can easily build more high-end retail not unlike Aspen 1, on the former site of the Gap, within the code, on the Base1 and Base2 sites. These will be leased out to high-end national and international brands that can afford to pay top dollar, year-round.
I like and respect Hunt. But he has learned the hard way that in Aspen, no good deed goes unpunished. Hunt brought Base1 and Base2 forward at the personal request of Mayor Steve Skadron. If I were Hunt, I would just walk away from this affordable-lodge concept and build more high-end retail. Who needs the headache? I think high-end retail is better for our economy on a sustained basis anyway. Unfortunately, it will contribute to the further increase in the cost of living in town, but you can’t have it both ways. Aspen is not an affordable destination, so pretending to be one doesn’t solve anything once visitors to teensy-tiny hotel rooms walk outside. If Aspen truly wants “affordable lodging,” there need to be gives and gets.
The law of unintended consequences is preparing to rear its ugly head yet again. Watch and see.