Letter: The legend of the lesser alternative | AspenTimes.com

Letter: The legend of the lesser alternative

Some urban legends are harmless, like the ones about the alligators and piranhas living in New York City sewers. But legends can be harmful — for example, when they disguise the truth.

Proponents of Base2 are spreading a false urban legend. They are telling people that if Base2 is rejected by the voters, the developer has the right to build an identical building for another purpose. Whoever is spreading this untrue legend either doesn't know the city's land-use approval process or intentionally is misleading the public. Here's the truth:

When the city approves a development application, it's for a specific use (e.g., lodging, retail or offices) in a specific location (e.g., the Conoco lot) and according to specific dimensions and other requirements (e.g., height, lot-line setbacks, interior square footage, parking or affordable housing). Approvals result from a lengthy process that starts with submission of a design to the Community Development Department. After much back-and-forth, a more specific design is reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission or the Historic Preservation Commission and often by the City Council. This can take more than a year. The developer has no right to build anything during the process. When and if the application receives "final approval," the developer gains a legal right to build the specific thing approved and only the specific thing approved. "Final approval" is the last link in the approval chain.

Before Referendum 1 was adopted, the last link in the chain was approval by the City Council or one of the commissions. But after Referendum 1, if the application includes variances governed by Referendum 1, the last link in the approval chain is a public vote. In the case of Base2, the City Council illegally ignored Referendum 1. But we got to the same place with the petition drive that required approval to go on a public ballot. Right now, Mark Hunt has no legal right to build anything at the Conoco lot because he has no "final approval." He won't have a legal right to build anything unless voters approve Base2.

But if Base2 is rejected by the voters, the developer still won't have a right to build anything on the Conoco lot. Nada. Zip. His only application is for Base2. If that goes up in smoke, he'll continue to have no right to build a bloomin' thing on the lot. Just like now. Then what?

Then he will have to start the process for "something else." He won't have a right to build that, whatever it will be, until he gets "final approval" for it. Since the developer can't apply for "something else" until we turn down Base2 at the ballot box, we can't know what "something else" will be. Attempting to scare voters, proponents are spreading the legend that "something else" will be just as big but something we like less than a lodge. In fact, neither the spreaders of this legend nor Hunt can predict what he'll want to build instead of Base2. (He changes his mind all the time.) Nor can they predict what might eventually gain "final approval."

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So if anyone tells you the urban legend about how Hunt has the right to build the same building but call it "something else," you will know it's an urban legend, not the truth.

Maurice Emmer

Aspen