Letter: City Council’s opportunity after Base2
November 8, 2015
A recent series of votes (the repeal of Ordinance 19 and Referendum 1 and the rejection of the Base2 project) — indicating the residents of Aspen want their elected officials to follow their own land-use code instead of trading favors in one-off zoning decisions — presents the City Council with an opportunity to set a new direction.
Mayor Steve Skadron already has led the way with his "top 10" goal of aligning the city's land-use code with the master plan for the city, the Aspen Area Community Plan. However, implementation of that goal is at best glacial. Almost three years after the Aspen Area Community Plan was adopted, and more than four months after stating this lofty goal, no implementation plan has even been proposed.
An example of the need to reform the land-use code was highlighted during the public debate over the Base2 project. The argument was made that the Mixed Use District, which applies to the Conoco lot, would allow a project even worse than (or as bad as) the ill-fitting Base2 lodge. Council members themselves made this argument, essentially admitting that the Mixed Use District needs reform. Yet it is only the council that has the power to reform the code.
What did the council do to fix the Mixed Use District? Nothing. Instead, the council recently passed amendments to the land-use code (Ordinance 27-2015, the so-called "reliance" amendment), which will allow developers to circumvent changes that are made in the public interest by allowing early vesting. These highly unusual early-vesting provisions will have the effect of promoting midnight applications whenever code changes are proposed, and the community and resort will be stuck with resulting incompatible development.
What to do in light of this highly unbalanced debate, where the public interest is always jettisoned in favor of the development interest du jour?
The only reasonable path forward is for the City Council to engage a nationally experienced land-use group to evaluate its land-use code and recommend changes that actually reflect a shared community vision.
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Meanwhile, given the passage of the developer-friendly "reliance" code amendment, to ensure the public interest is protected and actually advanced, the City Council must enact a brief moratorium on commercial applications while the city fixes its code.
Wouldn't it be great to see some action that promotes the public interest at today's or Tuesday's council meeting?