Letter: Revise the land-use code | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Revise the land-use code

Isn’t it ironic that the biggest cheerleader for Bert Myrin’s ill-conceived ballot initiative is our former mayor? Yep, the same guy who strong-armed and proudly put his stamp of approval on the Aspen Art Museum, among other skyline-altering projects, now wants to neuter the council’s authority and put the brakes on all development.

Make no mistake — this is every bit as much of a power play as if the former mayor still had the gavel in his hand. But however meritorious the issue, the battle is being waged on the wrong terrain. The Home Rule Charter is no place for the bile and whims of those distrustful of elected officials (past and present, according to Myrin) to spill out. Rather, it is the land-use code itself that needs to be revised so that reasonable development can proceed apace without the requirement for wholesale variances project after project.

Consider the just-approved Molly Gibson Lodge, a project all agreed had appeal and considerable merit as a step forward for the community. It was approved with multiple variances granted on allowable floor area and setback requirements. But if Myrin’s proposal were law today, the council would be hog-tied and the proposed project would have to go to the voters for approval, a costly waste of time and energy for everyone.

More properly, these issues are properly debated in the realm of the land-use code itself. Today it is an entanglement of requirements worthy of Dickens’ Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce in “Bleak House.” Why can’t the protagonists here back off and focus their efforts and expertise on a revised, understandable and enforceable land-use code that reflects a consistent and sustainable vision on the critical issues of mass and scale, parking and affordable-housing requirements? Rather than tear the town apart, an unbiased and robust debate could yield positive results, and I do not mean another treatise of rules and regulations.

A revised code would have real teeth and put all developers on notice that the horse-trading and Persian-rug-market environment we see today will simply not be allowed. A variance, by definition, is a departure from the rule, yet today we are upside-down because it is the norm. Everyone agrees that needs to be fixed. For example, a revised land-use code should set forth a very high threshold requiring a compelling showing that any variance by itself is clearly in the public interest — that is, not one justified as the result of bartering with the city. A very high bar would give the council a substantive reason to say “no” and at the same time build a record based on firm requirements embedded in the code.

Neil B. Siegel