Lum: Orchestrating Base 2
At the Aug. 24 Aspen City Council meeting, several peculiar things happened.
Mark Hunt had officially withdrawn the application for his Base2 hotel at the gas-station site across from Carl’s.
Residents who had objected to the affordable housing, parking, height and bulk variances given to Hunt mounted a successful petition drive against the approval of the Base2 ordinance, and now it was up to the council either to repeal the ordinance or to take it to a public vote.
Since Hunt had withdrawn his application, there was no point in having a vote for or against it, leaving the option to repeal the ordinance or do nothing.
It seemed simple enough, but matters started to derail almost immediately.
City Attorney Jim True stated unequivocally and frequently that the council did not have to repeal the ordinance officially because — in effect — the ordinance no longer existed. Of course, he said, the City Council could repeal it if it wished to (the waste of its time on such nonsense implied).
During the course of the meeting, True kept saying he wanted to hear resident comments before commenting further himself.
Mayor Steve Skadron specifically invited the three major opponents of the Base2 approval — Ward Hauenstein, Maurice Emmer and Marcia Goshorn — to speak first, and all supported the repeal of the ordinance lest some nasty surprises lurk down the road if the ordinance was kept open.
Various people spoke, and then Councilman Adam Frisch said he’d like to hear from Hunt. No one picked up on that, and a short time later Skadron specifically said he wanted to hear from Hunt.
Hunt then took the speaker’s seat and — long story short — said he’d had a change of heart and would prefer that the matter of Base2 go to the voters.
Huge surprise, right?
I think it came as no surprise at all, at least for several people at the tables.
Fast forward to this quote in an article in the Aug. 28 edition of the Aspen Daily News, wherein it was revealed that Hunt had hired Dwayne Romero in some kind of right-hand-man capacity:
“Jim True said it’s his understanding that prior to Monday’s meeting, Romero called the Community Development Department to ask about the procedure for reinstating Base2’s approvals.”
Chris Bendon, head of the Community Development Department, certainly would have informed True of this new turn of events. Would True have told the mayor?
This would explain why, later in the meeting, both True and Bendon indicated that they had been researching the legalities of withdrawing the withdrawal and why the council seemed so determined not to repeal the ordinance. If the ordinance was dead, as True assured everyone, why not repeal it just to keep peace in the valley?
It was then gradually revealed that Hunt would have to submit, and the council would have to approve a withdrawal of the withdrawal and then move to put the question to the voters. Inherent in this revelation was the fact that, contrary to True’s assurances, the Base2 ordinance was not dead yet.
Maybe the idea wasn’t fully cooked, but it was half-baked enough to put it out on the table immediately, asking Hunt to speak first instead of deep into the meeting.
A whole lot of time, energy and grief could have been saved if it had been presented to us straight at the onset of the meeting. “Folks, there has been a last-minute change to the Base2 script. Mark Hunt has changed his mind and wishes to withdraw his withdrawal. This means we have to table this meeting so Hunt can draw up his withdrawal papers. We will continue this meeting until tomorrow, when the council will decide whether or not to accept the withdrawal.”
Of course the council did just that the next day, putting the matter back to the voters and smirkingly saying that was what the petitioners wanted all along.
The council gets its feelings hurt when accused of shenanigans if not downright duplicity, but give us a break. Of course we were pissed off at going through that whole dog and pony show, iterating all the reasons to repeal when the entire game plan had changed and some of those at the tables damned well knew it all along.
Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks Hunt and Romero will make the perfect pair. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.