| AspenTimes.com

Aspen’s city manager faces challenges with staff turnover amid a pandemic and a changing culture in City Hall

Sara Ott has had a tumultuous first year as Aspen’s city manager — dealing with high department head turnover, a changing landscape in the organization’s culture and the local government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since Ott became interim city manager in February 2019 and got the permanent job in September of that year, at least 10 department heads have left their posts, along with some key employees across the roughly 25 departments in City Hall.

The turnover has brought an additional burden onto Ott, who has had to rebuild the city manager’s office, as she was the last one standing when the three-person department was decimated by forced resignations.

As the assistant city manager for two years coming from Ohio in 2017, Ott was named interim city manager after her boss, Steve Barwick, and her colleague, former assistant City Manager Barry Crook, left the office.

While trying to hold down the fort amid political upheaval in City Hall, as well as manage the city’s day-to-day operations, the municipality’s 300-plus employees and take direction from a newly elected City Council with differing agendas, Ott was competing for the permanent job against two other candidates.

And just when she was getting her legs under her and honing in on council’s collective goals and priorities, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Aspen in March.

While recruiting employees during a pandemic has its own challenges, the tight housing market and the cost of living here make hiring even more difficult.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue that has major implications for recruiting,” she told The Aspen Times on Sept. 1, which was her one-year anniversary as permanent city manager.

Ott, who makes $203,000 a year plus benefits, will have her first yearly evaluation and review by City Council in the coming weeks.

Taking stock of the turnover

There are two key positions that the city will hire a recruiting firm for in the coming months — the executive director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) and the executive director of the Wheeler Opera House.

Those department heads, who each had been in their positions for five years, left after clashes they had with Ott over pay, policy and management style, among other reasons.

A more high-profile departure occurred in August with the forced resignation of Mike Kosdrosky, former executive director of APCHA.

He received a $43,000 severance package after signing an agreement to not disparage the city, or have any contact with the media or other government employees.

Gena Buhler, former executive director of the Wheeler Opera House, signed a similar agreement this past spring after she resigned but was asked to leave earlier than her planned departure date.

Two months after Ott took the job permanently, City Clerk Linda Manning resigned, saying at the time she wasn’t happy in her job and didn’t agree with the organization’s values.

Manning said this week that Ott was part of the reason she left.

The most recent resignation, Hans de Roos, capital asset director, occurred earlier this month after being on the job for just four months.

There are currently five department head positions open, with some hires being frozen for budgetary reasons due to COVID-19.

A new human resources director started earlier this month, and a director of communications is close to being hired, said Alissa Farrell, the city’s administrative services director.

Farrell is the city’s former human resources director who was promoted this year to a newly created position by Ott. Tracy Trulove, who filled another new position created by Ott as the director of communications, quit in June after a year on the job.

Trulove, who now works as a public information officer for Pitkin County, said at the time she didn’t realize how political the city job was going to be.

Ott said there are a variety of reasons why people left the organization in the past year.

“A lot of retirements, promotions and the people who don’t like me left,” she said.

Former and current employees have criticized Ott’s management style, describing it as “her way or the highway,” non-communicative, micromanaging or controlling.

The result for some employees has been a toxic work environment and a culture of fear.

More than two dozen employees spoke to The Times either on the record or on the condition of anonymity, regarding Ott and the culture of the work environment within the city.

“There was uncertainty with people protecting themselves at the expense of others because of control from the top down and it segregated us at the lower level,” said one former employee. “There was a lot of distrust between the departments for fear of losing control.”

Other employees say the control and micromanaging are being harnessed in the human resources department, and personnel matters within the organization go unanswered or are ignored in some circumstances and in other cases, they are bogged down in undue process.

Sarah Sanders, former community events and sponsorship manager at the Wheeler, said she left the city for another opportunity last month because of how she was treated when she was reassigned to the parks department to work at the golf course cleaning locker rooms, golf carts and planting flowers around town as the opera house was shuttered in March due to the pandemic.

She said she expressed to human resources and to Ott that she didn’t feel comfortable from a health standpoint doing that type of work with a compromised immune system.

Even though there was work to do in her hired role, she was told that it wasn’t a priority and that parks and golf were essential and an alternative was being laid off, Sanders said.

“I appreciate the city’s efforts to try and retain staff in a unique way. I wish they had given us the option on furlough versus reassignment and took more time to understand our workloads before moving us over to 32 hours a week to parks and rec, leaving eight hours to work on our hired roles,” Sanders said. “The daily unknown of what each day looked like and working in areas that we had no experience in negatively impacted my mental health and well-being. A furlough in the long run would’ve been the preferred option for me, looking back.”

In an August 2019 email exchange between Buhler and council members as they were contemplating who to hire for the city manager position, Buhler advised them to pick someone other than Ott. The Aspen Times obtained the emails through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

“Big picture, I’m not in support of Sara Ott for this hire,” Buhler wrote to council members Ann Mullins and Ward Hauenstein. “I have worked directly with her since her arrival in Aspen, and to be honest, she makes me hate my job.”

Buhler said at the time that she did have conversations with council members about her particular gripes with Ott.

Wheeler board chairman Chip Fuller confirmed this week that Buhler has told him she felt “underpaid, undervalued and disrespected.”

Yet other department heads who left the organization said they felt Ott was a breath of fresh air after 19 years of Barwick and were sorry they were leaving under her tenure, but were doing so for personal or professional reasons.

While Barwick has been described as a hands-off city manager and disengaged in recent years, Ott is hands-on and engaged, observers said.

“There was a culture crisis and she holds people accountable,” said one former department head. “Most of the people who left is a good thing.”

Ott characterized herself as a much more engaged collaborator than her predecessor, and where some people see micromanagement, she said she “offers support from my office.”

“For every one director who has left, there are 10 directors who want to be here,” she said.

Farrell, who has worked for the city for 16 years, said the past year’s turnover might be related to where the culture is heading, which ultimately results in the quantity and quality of deliverables to the Aspen community.

“Turnover is common in organizations when a new CEO, superintendent or city or county manager is hired, especially in circumstances similar to the city where a city manager had been with the city for a long period of time,” she wrote in an email to the Times. “Change is hard. There is no easy path to cultural change and the path forward of a values-based culture with accountability is the direction we are heading towards.”

Some employees and an official from another jurisdiction who has worked with Ott have described the city’s culture as “corporate” and walled off from the public.

Ott, who is a generation ahead of Barwick in public administration training and education, said as city manager it is her responsibility to bring a level of professionalism and accountability to all departments.

“If (City Council) wanted status quo, my predecessor would still be here,” she said. “I made it clear that I wouldn’t be a status quo manager.”

Making the grade

City Council is currently working on a format to evaluate Ott’s performance, which is done on an annual basis with the city manager position.

Mayor Torre said he is taking feedback from council members on how to make the current review system more robust, and hopes to have the evaluation done in the next month.

Hauenstein said he’d like to use a third-party facilitator to assist with this year’s review, with the turnover in mind.

“I think it’s a valid subject inquiry,” he said. “As we go into the first year, it’s important to understand what the culture is, what it was, and do we have a healthy culture at the city?”

Mullins said she also supports a third-party consultant at least for the first review of Ott because the evaluation process needs to be much more stringent than it is.

Ott gave herself a seven or eight out of 10 on job performance.

“There’s a lot of things that haven’t gotten done,” she said. “COVID has thrown a wrench in it all. … I can’t get those six months back.”

Mullins said she would give Ott a slightly higher grade for the city’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as her work with the community, the staff and council.

“I’m a fan of hers,” she said, adding she is unsure of the credibility of employees who have left and are speaking up. “This council struggles with policy and I think she has done a fabulous job helping council through COVID and what the community wants.”

Hauenstein, who said council is limited in its dealings with individual staff members, said he also is satisfied with Ott’s performance, giving her a B or B-plus.

He said he recognizes the additional stress the pandemic has had on city staff, and having to implement new programs on the fly such as establishing a mandatory mask zone, a rent relief program for businesses and other initiatives as part of the city’s $6 million COVID-19 response and recovery package.

“I think Sara has established some good communications with other agencies that did not exist before,” Hauenstein said. “It’s hard to hold Sara accountable on what our goals are because we haven’t been able to get to them.”

Torre said turnover at the top isn’t necessarily a red flag for him but council is looking at the overall issue, including the cost of recruiting and hiring.

That’s in time and energy, along with the financial costs of recruiting, particularly during a pandemic, and the city’s limited ability to offer competitive compensation packages and housing.

He gave Ott a B or B-plus, or an eight out of 10 on the scale.

“There was a change in directive, as well as a change in leadership,” Torre said. “She was moving us in a clear direction and COVID has made us take a left turn in what has been a very difficult first year.”

City Councilwoman Rachel Richards said Ott has brought a level of professionalism to the administration and is comfortable with the work that city departments are doing.

“I believe Sara brings a great deal of structure to issues,” she said. “Some people don’t respond well to that much structure.”

Richards also said she sees the change in personnel as a positive.

“It’s a real opportunity for the city manager to restructure the organization and reassess it,” she said.

Looking through a new lens

Ott said she expects employees to grow in four areas, only one of which has been addressed sufficiently in her mind and that is in technical skills.

What needs improvement is team, management and leadership skills, Ott said.

“I see an area where we need to invest because we need to bring our best game to the table,” she said. “We owe it to the community to not fall behind.”

But it’s difficult to keep up when the pandemic forced department heads to reprioritize.

“I wanted to give these directors a focus on these areas and they weren’t able to do that,” Ott said.

She said there are a lot of things to celebrate in her first year, particularly the city’s quick response in re-engineering government services in a matter of days after COVID-19 hit Aspen, along with dedicating thousands of hours of staff time to response and recovery efforts.

“The vast majority (of city staff) is knocking it out of the park,” Ott said.

The hiring of a new Wheeler executive director is expected by December; filling the APCHA department head role may take longer as the city administration surveys what kind of leader it is looking for.

“You wait and hire the right person and that’s important to me,” Ott said. “We are not going to rush this. We are going to meet the needs of the (APCHA) board and the community.”

Assistant City Manager Diane Foster, who has been on the job since May, is acting as interim executive director of APCHA.

She told the APCHA board last week that a survey among city and county employees, as well as elected officials and citizen volunteers overseeing the affordable housing program, indicates that the next APCHA executive director should have high integrity, be trustworthy, have outstanding management and relationship skills, and prioritize equity and inclusion.

An internal review of the job description is underway and then a recruiting firm will be hired.

“We’re looking for a super-talented unicorn,” Foster told the APCHA board during its Sept. 16 meeting. “I think in this case, there might be a whole herd of unicorns out there.”

Foster, who moved here from Park City, Utah, also is in charge of the Wheeler Opera House. She is working in tandem with Nancy Lesley, the city’s director of special events and marketing, who is serving as interim executive director of the Wheeler.

Scott Miller, the city’s public works director, is acting as interim capital asset director as he reassesses the structure of the department.

He, along with Farrell, had served as interim assistant city managers in addition to their other job titles to help fill the void when Ott was left as the only administrator in the city manager’s office.

“Sara started with nobody,” Mullins reflected. “She has built a team and she fights hard for the city’s interest.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Aspen boys golf wins season-opening tournament, Basalt takes second

The Aspen High School boys golf team got its season off to a hot start by winning the fall’s first tournament on Friday at Cedaredge Golf Club. The Skiers shot a collective 247 to hold off Basalt High School (252) by five strokes. Gunnison was third with 275.

The course played with hot, dry and windy conditions, according to AHS coach Mary Woulfe and assistant coach Coulter Young. Still, Aspen junior Nic Pevny managed it well, shooting 74 to take the individual title by five strokes over Basalt senior Tyler Sims (79). AHS senior Jake Doyle was third with 80.

Aspen senior Cole Kennedy shot 93 to tie for 11th, while senior Keaton Miller shot an even 100 to tie for 18th. Sophomore Sky Sosna was the next Skier up, shooting 104 to tie for 22nd.

“Nic showed great strength to come in with this score,” Woulfe wrote in a text. “Keaton and Cole both felt they had horrible days, but it is all relative to how a course plays on any given day and it was good enough to get the job done.”

After Pevny, Sims and Doyle, Gunnison senior Griffin Pederson was fourth with 82. He was followed by a pair of Basalt brothers in freshman Garrett Exelbert (84, fifth) and junior Braden Exelbert (89, sixth). Basalt junior Sam Sherry, a newcomer who is playing golf because football season was postponed to the spring, shot 95 to tie for 14th. BHS junior Adam Gair shot 101 to finish in 20th.

Aspen’s season is set to continue Wednesday with a trip to Kent Denver, while both teams are currently slated to play Thursday at Montrose.

Basalt is scheduled to host a tournament Aug. 18 at River Valley Ranch near Carbondale, which also is expected to host regionals next month. AHS has a home tournament set for Sept. 14 at Aspen Golf Club.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Snowmass Town Briefs: Grocery assistance available to those in need; food distribution and town cleanup starts Friday; spa at Viceroy open

GROCERY ASSISTANCE FOR THOSE IN NEED

In this unprecedented time of need the Snowmass Village Community Outreach Board has received a generous donation from BJ Adams and the Klein Family Charitable Fund.

The board used the donation to buy 40 gift certificates for Clark’s Market in Snowmass. Each gift certificate is for $75.

The Snowmass Village Community Outreach Board is happy to assist anyone in need of grocery assistance. Please sign up to receive one of the gift cards online at https://signup.com/go/grUMADG. You can also sign up for a gift card by calling Betsy Burns Sima at 970-948-9367 or Marion Garrett at 970-618-6703.

SNOWMASS FOOD DISTRIBUTION FRIDAY

Aspen Family Connections will distribute food to Snowmass Village residents in need this Friday.

From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., residents can pick up free food items in the Snowmass Recreation Center parking lot. Aspen Family Connections asks residents to enter at the Rodeo Lot off of the roundabout and exit through the Town Park/recreation center parking lot. Signage will be posted to help with traffic flow.

The village-specific food distribution is set to take place every two weeks on Fridays and is open to any and all Snowmass Village residents.

40TH ANNUAL TOWN CLEANUP STARTS FRIDAY

On Friday, the 40th Annual Town Cleanup will start as a virtual, month-long cleanup instead of a one-day, in-person event due to the COVID-19 crisis.

From May 15 to June 15, village residents are invited to help pick up litter around town. Bring your own bag, practice social distancing and take part in groups of no more than 10 people. Participants are also asked to wear a mask and gloves.

Once you’ve cleaned up your favorite trail, park or other spot in town, snap a photo of the area, yourself and any of the treasures you found. Then, submit your best photo to the town to be entered in a virtual prize drawing. The town plans to use the generous donation from Alpine Bank, one of the cleanup day sponsors, to purchase gift cards and gift certificates from village businesses to giveaway as prizes. Other town cleanup sponsors include the Snowmass Rotary Club, Snowmass Tourism and the Town of Snowmass Village.

Cleanup photo winners will be contacted on June 16. Only images of clean up within Snowmass Village will be accepted for the photo contest, and all winning photos will be posted on the town website.

If you have question about the virtual town cleanup, email Rhonda Coxon, town clerk, at rcoxon@tosv.com; or Sara Stookey Sanchez, public relations manager for Snowmass Tourism, at sstookey@gosnowmass.com.

Cleanup area suggestions:

• Cathy Robinson Park and parking lot

• Nature Trail

• South Rim Parking Lot and South Rim Connector

• Rodeo Lot

• Melton Trail (Snowmass Center)

• Fanny Hill

• Owl Creek Trail

VICEROY OPEN FOR HAIR AND NAILS SERVICES

On May 12, The Spa at Viceroy Snowmass reopened for hair and nail services based on the reopening guidelines established by the county and state.

The new hours of business will be Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Clients will be able to get manicures, pedicures, haircuts and hair wash and styles. For more information on prices and booking, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/snowmass/wellness/spa.

Snowmass Town Council recap: Snowmass Center redevelopment discussed; trail closures, land use code changes, parcel rezoning approved

COUNCIL TO REVIEW POLISHED RESOLUTION FOR SNOWMASS CENTER REDEVELOPMENT THIS MONTH

Town Council gave the Snowmass Center redevelopment team direction needed to craft a polished resolution for preliminary approval of its center project May 4.

At the Monday meeting, council received a draft resolution with nearly 90 required conditions for the center project based off of the Planning Commission’s review, and mainly discussed one area of contention: whether the types of tenants allowed on the street level of the main Snowmass Center building should be restricted.

In its review of the Snowmass Center project, the Planning Commission spent a lot of time discussing this, ultimately deciding in a near-split decision that the street level should be prioritized for retail and restaurant tenants, not office or real estate, as discussed with council May 4. The commission worried that if future market demands drive rent prices up, businesses like jewelry stores and real estate offices may be the only ones able to afford to be on the main Snowmass Center building’s ground level, decreasing vitality and community benefit.

But during a brief presentation to council, Jordan Sarick, principal of Eastwood Developments and its Eastwood Snowmass Investors affiliate, explained that limiting the types of tenants allowed on the street level of the new center could actually be detrimental to its future success and not allow for flexibility.

Many businesses offer more than one service or use and do not fit neatly into traditional “commercial type” definitions, Sarick explained.

“I worry that by limiting office uses we are going to be unnecessarily and needlessly limiting some uses that could provide vitality and other essential services at the center,” Sarick said. “The most successful projects and neighborhoods change and evolve to meet the needs of the community and all we’re asking for is the flexibility that exists in the code currently to continue the center’s uses going forward.”

Sarick also addressed a few questions and concerns council brought up at its April 20 meeting during his May 4 presentation, including updated variance requests, more detail on the center’s traffic flows, sidewalks and transportation connections, and the programming plan for the park proposed at the new center.

After some discussion, Town Council generally agreed that tenant flexibility needed to be allowed for on the street level of the center, aligning with Sarick and noting that most of the current center tenants, including Ajax Supply, Clark’s Market, the post office, Sundance Liquor and Gifts and Taster’s, are already proposed and accounted for on the new center’s first floor.

“I’m a person that enjoys flexibility versus a cookie cutter approach,” Mayor Markey Butler said. “I really think you got to work a plan and the plan needs to fit the community, so if there’s a need for flexibility in terms of what the uses can be I don’t think we need to be prescriptive, I think we need to be creative.”

Sarick said his team would bring back a more polished resolution for review at the May 18 council meeting, along with more detail on the traffic flow, logistics and safety at the new center, as requested by Councilman Bob Sirkus.

If council approves the resolution, it would mean preliminary approval of the Snowmass Center planned unit development (PUD) application. It would not allow the center redevelopment team to proceed with construction of any kind; it only authorizes them to prepare and submit a final PUD based off of the conditions required by the town through the preliminary plan approval, according to town documents.

TOWN ALIGNS WITH FOREST SERVICE ON SEASONAL BURNT MOUNTAIN AREA CLOSURE

Town Council approved the second reading of an ordinance that extends the seasonal closure dates for trails in the Burnt Mountain area, aligning with the U.S. Forest Service.

According to Brian Olson, Snowmass police chief, the White River National Forest formally adopted closure extensions for the Two Creeks to West Buttermilk area in late April. By following suit, Olson said the town would be in partnership with Forest Service officials to monitor and enforce the closure, and any violations would come through the local court. Violating the closure can result in a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in jail, punishable by Forest Service regulation.

The closure aims to protect the elk in the area from being startled or disrupted by trail users during calving season. Trails affected include the Tom Blake, Sequel and other trails in the Elk Camp and Two Creeks vicinity, which will open June 21, along with the Anaerobic Nightmare, Government #1980 and Sugarbowl trails, which will open June 28.

Town Council unanimously approved the seasonal closure extension ordinance with little discussion.

COUNCIL APPROVES CHANGES TO THE LAND USE CODE

Council members approved the second reading of the ordinance that changes the way basement and mechanical space exemptions are measured and determined.

These land-use code changes include limiting mechanical space exemptions in homes with or without qualifying basement exemptions to 5% of the allowable floor area; eliminating the unlimited mechanical space provision in qualifying basement exemption spaces; and redefining how the qualifying basement exemption is measured to rely on either existing or finished grade, whichever is most restrictive.

As explained by Julie Ann Woods, town community development director, the changes are in response to a years-long trend of misuse of these exemptions in some redevelopment and new home projects, which community development officials feel impact public safety and the residential character of the village.

At the May 4 meeting, Woods recapped this reasoning and included two more examples of misuse submitted to the town over the past few weeks.

“This is why we are presenting this to you because we are concerned,” Woods said.

“This (misuse) is legal and what we’re saying is it is not the intent of the law, so we’re suggesting we change the law so it meets what we believe the intent to be,” added Town Manager Clint Kinney.

Mark Kittle, the town’s chief building official, also weighed in on the proposed changes, namely the new limit on mechanical space exemption, saying that he feels the 5% cap provides enough mechanical space for developers to work with and should be put in place.

Town Council also agreed that some flexibility with the 5% cap, namely when and if homeowners or developers are looking to utilize clean energy equipment, should be allowed as exceptions and up to the community development and building officials to decide.

Council unanimously approved the second reading of the ordinance.

HORSE RANCH PARCEL REZONED AS OPEN SPACE

In a 4 to 1 vote, Town Council approved the second reading of an ordinance that would rezone a parcel of the Horse Ranch Subdivision from “public” to “open space.”

The vote aligned with the ordinance’s first reading decision, with Councilman Bob Sirkus voicing his concern with the rezone.

Sirkus feels that the rezone could be detrimental in the future, as rezoning out of open space requires the designation of a similar open space parcel elsewhere in town. He feels rezoning the parcel as “conservation” instead would serve the same purpose, keep the land in town hands and allow for future flexibility.

“None of us know how this town is going to develop over the next not five years but 25 years. And I think that even by leaving this as public there is very little risk, almost no risk that anything is going to be built there,” Sirkus said.

Despite Sirkus’ concerns, council moved to rezone the Horse Ranch parcel adjacent to Brush Creek Road to open space.

“When I went down and saw 30 elk sitting on that parcel it pretty much answered the question for me because I was really in your camp,” Councilman Bill Madsen said to Sirkus May 4. “We don’t want to give future councils any options… as open space, it will be much more difficult (to rezone again) and I think that’s the purpose here.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Town Council looks at Snowmass Center community purpose requirements; trail closure extensions; rezoning parcel to open space

Snowmass Town Council allocated another $100,000 to Pitkin County’s COVID-19 relief fund, approved the first readings of ordinances that would extend trail closures on Burnt Mountain and re-zone a parcel of land in the Horse Ranch Subdivision, and continued discussion on the Snowmass Center redevelopment project. Here’s the recap:

TOWN ALLOCATES ANOTHER $100,000 FOR COVID-19 RELIEF

Snowmass Town Council doubled its contribution to Pitkin County’s COVID-19 relief fund with the passage of a second emergency ordinance at its regular meeting April 20.

The $100,000 contribution approved Monday comes two weeks after council OK’d the initial $100,000 the town allocated for COVID-19 relief April 6.

“I think it’s fair to say these dollars are coming right back to us to help the community,” said Clint Kinney, town manager of Snowmass Village. “As town manager I support this contribution, we have reserves, we’re able to afford it, so if Town Council desires I would absolutely recommend the approval of this emergency ordinance.”

For the full story on the town’s COVID-19 response, visit SnowmassSun.com.

COMMUNITY PURPOSE OF SNOWMASS CENTER PROJECT

Town Council plans to start its review of the Snowmass Center redevelopment project’s proposed community purpose fulfillments in the coming weeks.

As explained by town staff, because the redevelopment project exceeds the “future buildout” identified for the area in the town’s comprehensive plan, “community purpose,” or specific community benefits like providing more affordable housing and developing necessary public facilities, are required for council approval of the planned redevelopment.

On April 20, the Snowmass Center project’s proposed community purpose aspects — which have changed some since council began reviewing the project last fall — were highlighted and explained, including the $500,000 commitment to improve overall community connectivity, $250,000 dedicated to the creation of a public park at the Snowmass Center, more affordable or deed-restricted housing than required and nearly 25 acres of open space dedicated to the town.

The community purpose proposal for the project originally included a $750,000 contribution toward a pedestrian bridge that would extend from the Snowmass Center area to Base Village, but was nixed as it did not appear to be supported by council or town staff.

“There’s a significant number of improvements we believe enhance livability, vitality and resiliency of the town in the future,” said Jordan Sarick, principal of Eastwood Developments and its Eastwood Snowmass Investors affiliate. “Some are tangible, some are intangible, but together we believe strongly that our community purpose obligation is filled and then some.”

Sarick explained that while things like enjoying lunch with a view and meeting a friend for coffee are intangible, the development team has worked to modestly quantify its community purpose contribution, estimating all of the pieces proposed amount to roughly $2.7 million of community benefits.

In addition to the community purposes proposed for the Snowmass Center project by developers, town staff also recommended April 20 that council require the design and construction of a recreational soft trail that connects the Melton Ranch Trail to the Rim Connector Trail; a safe hard trail connection between Melton Ranch Trail and Snowmass Center Main Street in lieu of a public park, as staff feel $250,000 is not enough to create a park; and a sidewalk connection along the east side of Upper Kearns Road from the proposed transit center to the Brush Creek Road roundabout, all as part of community purpose.

But before it could dive into community purpose requirements, Town Council felt it needed more visuals on the significant amendments made to the project as presented on April 6.

Those project changes included removing the two buildings (5A and 5B) between the main center and Woodbridge Condominiums and replacing them with additional commercial parking and the new neighborhood park; adding residential units from 5A and 5B to three of the four buildings (2A, 2B and 3A) located behind the main center building; dropping the overall height of building 6B by 3 feet; and improving loading service, delivery and shuttle loading areas in and around the proposed center.

Council also wanted more detail and specifics on some of the community purpose proposals, including the envisioned connectivity between the Snowmass Center and Base Village and the new Snowmass Center public park.

While there wasn’t much community purpose discussion, council members did say they feel developers should pay in full to create a public park and connection from Melton Ranch Trail to the Snowmass Center Main Street, and that connectivity to Base Village should be part of the overall development cost, not necessarily a community purpose fulfillment.

Town staff plans to bring a draft resolution for the Snowmass Center redevelopment project for council to work from at its May 4 meeting, and the redevelopment team said they would bring more visuals and details to help continue discussion on the project’s community purpose.

“I think this is moving in a very positive direction,” said Mayor Markey Butler.

TRAIL CLOSURES TO BE EXTENDED ON BURNT MOUNTAIN

Council approved the first reading of an ordinance Monday that would extend parts of the Burnt Mountain Wildlife Closure for an additional week this year.

The closure extension was requested by U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials to help protect the area’s steadily declining elk population from potentially detrimental disturbance during calving season.

Snowmass police, parks and trails officials and administration staff support the extension, which would extend the current seasonal closure of the area south of Tom Blake Trail and east of Sequel Trail until June 28.

Each spring, the Anaerobic Nightmare, Sequel and Tom Blake trails close from April 25 through June 21. The Government Trail east of Elk Camp Work Road is also closed May 15 through June 21, according to the town website.

This year, if the closure extension passes second reading, the Anaerobic Nightmare Trail and Government Trail east of Elk Camp Work Road would be closed until June 28. Tom Blake Trail will remain in the original closure with scheduled opening on June 21.

After little discussion, Town Council unanimously approved the Burnt Mountain Wildlife Closure extension.

REZONing FOR PARCEL IN HORSE RANCH SUBDIVISION

In a 4 to 1 vote, Town Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would rezone a parcel of the Horse Ranch Subdivision from “public” to “open space.”

According to the town municipal code, land that is zoned as public aims to provide areas for “uses required by, and for the benefit of” the public or are reserved for future community facilities. Land zoned as open space signifies the area is not appropriate for development or recreation use and preserves it in its natural state.

However, Councilman Bob Sirkus felt that rezoning the parcel as open space could be detrimental in the future, and would be better rezoned as a conservation parcel.

“I am concerned about changing the zoning to open space because of the difficulty of moving it back to some other zone in the future if it’s necessary,” Sirkus said, explaining that to rezone out of open space requires the designation of a similar open space parcel elsewhere in town. “I would feel more comfortable chaning the zone to conservation as I think it gets to the same result and would still allow flexibility in the future.”

The ordinance also included the allowance of a future public art installation on the parcel adjacent to Brush Creek Road. Town Council members felt that with the open space designation that public art would be inappropriate to include, and amended the ordinance to take it out.

Council approved the first reading of the amended ordinance 4-1, with Sirkus voting against it.

Teen Spotlight: Studying abroad in China at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic

This year, Chun Jie or Chinese New Year was Jan. 25, coincidentally when the COVID-19 outbreak began to run its course. Chun Jie is one of the most important Chinese holidays when families go back to their hometowns and reconnect with loved ones.

I was studying abroad in Beijing over the Chinese New Year and was at my host family’s grandfather’s house when the outbreak worsened. It was the day after Chun Jie when students began to wonder if they would be sent home and within three days of chaos, my classmates and I were back in our respective hometowns in the United States.

Carly Nabinger, one of the two sophomores participating in the study abroad with me, hadn’t gone to visit her extended host family and was in the center of Beijing when the news that we had to go home broke.

“My first reaction to being sent home all of a sudden was just pure shock because everything was happening too fast to process. At the time, all we knew about COVID-19 was that it was ‘like the flu,’” Nabinger said.

“What hurt the most is that we felt a sense of false hope. Selfishly, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair the world around us was while it spun out of control. Why us? Why this year? What now?”

Most kids felt like leaving China was like leaving unfinished business behind. None of us were able to say goodbye since we were dispersed around the country to learn as part of the School Year Abroad program. We had built up five months of strong friendships and familial love through daily struggles and inside jokes during our time abroad. The concept of leaving was so far away in my mind that rushing out of the country away from the memories and the people attached to them was really difficult.

Our mantra quickly became “Be good. Be strong,” after our resident director signed off an email with the four empowering words. Zoe Feldshon, a junior from Minnesota, was particularly impacted by the rushed departure.

“I feel like we were hit harder by culture shock (of returning to America) which made the move a lot harder. We weren’t mentally ready to come back and so coming back hurt a whole lot more,” Feldshon said. “I personally feel like if we had been even given a week notice it would have changed how I came back home because I came back home not really knowing what to do with myself because I had had no warning.”

MaryQuinn Mills, a senior from Georgia, had made particularly strong connections with locals in Beijing, as well as students from the school that our program was attached to.

“I’m not trying to belittle the experiences of regular seniors in America,” Mills said. “But it’s a different thing when you unexpectedly can’t see your classmate that lives 15 minutes away for the rest of the year versus unexpectedly being sent home on a plane hundreds and thousands of miles away from your classmates, teachers, friends and second family for maybe your whole life. … Both are hurtful, but ours has a different impact.”

After coming home late January and two weeks of quarantine, our school gave students the option to continue with the program online in hopes of going to the Italy campus, or return to school in America. A little over half of the kids opted to stay with the program and completed a month of online school.

Obviously, due to COVID-19 migrating to Italy, students weren’t allowed to switch campuses but the program left it to the last minute to cancel their plans. I had flown to New York to get on the administrative lead group flight to Italy, which was supposed to depart March 5. Anneka Le, a senior from Hershey, Pennsylvania, also had flown to New York to catch the group flight.

“I was mostly disappointed and was immediately thinking, ‘What now?’” Le said after finding out our studies in Italy were canceled. “In a single email, I saw not only an experience taken away but also a very enriching education.”

Once Italy was canceled, the program was full of uncertain teenagers who were faced with yet another decision: Online school through the abroad program or return to the American school that sent them abroad?

Most kids chose to go back to their American schools, myself included, but the decision was almost meaningless since COVID-19 soon came to Aspen as well and schools closed down anyway.

At first, coming back to Aspen and re-enrolling into Aspen High School was exciting for me. On March 12, I had spoken with the school counselor and met my new teachers. I was only going to be taking four classes for the rest of the year to make sure I have enough credits to graduate. I had already been self isolating for two months doing online courses, and I was enthusiastic to go back to a real school. The past two months I had been waking up at 10 in the morning, attending online class in my pajamas, and then staying awake all night to talk with friends or watch YouTube videos. A normal routine was seriously needed, and I had my eye set on AHS to give me that.

But the schools announced their closures the next day and I was deeply disappointed. I understood why but it seemed so unfair. It’s been a long few months for my classmates and me, but some of us have chosen to continue with Chinese language classes, which helps keep a weak connection to Beijing. My friends from my year abroad agreed that we all chose the wrong year to study abroad, but then we wouldn’t have met each other. I’ve maintained a positive mindset about my situation, knowing that if I had the chance to go back in time, I would still do it all again.

Now, it’s April and I’ve been in self isolation for about three months. A lot of my classes, with AHS and my Chinese class that I’m continuing, have done lesson units on COVID-19. It feels like a topic that I can’t escape and the only thing people want to do is talk about the virus.

I’ve been spending my days doing work and catching up with my parents. As much as COVID-19 feels like it’s taken over everything, I hold my friends and family dear to my heart and acknowledge the love I have in my life.

To anyone struggling particularly with this: we’ll get through it. We’ll grow. We’ll move on. Be good. Be strong.

Aja Schiller is a junior at Aspen High School and has been writing for the Skier Scribbler for the past three years.

Council recap: Continued design OK’d for Option 5 of transit center; land-use code changes tabled; grant awards approved

Town Council had a heavy agenda on April 6 at its first virtual meeting during the COVID-19 crisis.

Although talk of the coronavirus pandemic impacts creeped into most every discussion during the more than three hour meeting, council members focused on 2020 budget amendments, proposed amendments to the town’s land use code, Option 5 of the proposed mall transit center, and the Snowmass Center redevelopment project. Here’s the recap:

COUNCIL OKS CONTINUED DESIGN OF MALL TRANSIT CENTER OPTION 5

After months of discussion, Town Council decided to move forward with further design work on Option 5 of the proposed Village Mall transit center.

With the council decision to formally adopt and approve the Option 5 design, town staff will begin using its funds allocated for the project by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC) and through a state transportation grant to move forward from the conceptual design phase of the proposed transit center.

“It’s a major commitment and we want to make sure that if we’re going to move forward with this that the sort of general concepts are well in place,” said David Peckler, town transportation director. “If we’re going to commit these funds to this project, we want to move forward with a design that has council’s support.”

After Town Council expressed reservations about the mass and scale of the Option 4 transit center design in fall 2019, which included a bus platform at the mall level with a parking garage and roadway below that would replace Lot 6, town staff began to pursue Option 5.

Option 5 is similar to Option 4, but includes a smaller bus platform (reduced by 10 feet), pulls the connecting road from Upper Brush Creek Road to Lower Carriage Way out from beneath the platform deck and is estimated to cost $9.8 million, about $1 million more than the projected cost of Option 4, as previously reported.

The town has $650,000 from the EOTC and $300,000 of state grant funds allocated for continued design of Option 5, which Peckler and Kinney believe will cover most of the project’s total architectural and engineering design costs before construction.

Peckler and Kinney also emphasized to Town Council that approving Option 5 for continued design will allow the town to pursue further state and federal funding for the project, and that the transit center is still a long ways away from becoming reality as construction isn’t anticipated to begin until spring 2022 at the earliest.

But while council expressed general approval and confidence in the Option 5 design for the proposed transit center, some members questioned if now amid the COVID-19 crisis is the best time to move forward with the project.

After some discussion, council members decided that because most of the design work fees will be covered without using town funds and considering these outside funds may be unavailable or eroded over time, it made sense to move forward with continued design of Option 5.

“My position is that if we have these monies available from outside of the general fund or any of the town funds, it reduces the risk of spending money and not having anything happen,” said Councilman Bob Sirkus.

Town staff also committed to updating council on the design work progress at every major stage to ensure the project is moving in the right direction. The decision passed 4 to 1, with Councilman Tom Goode voting no.

ORDINANCE TO AMEND LAND USE AND DEVELOPMENT CODE TABLED

Council members tabled the ordinance that would change the way basement and mechanical space exemptions are measured and determined on second reading, April 6.

After lengthy discussion and presentations from both town community development department staff and longtime local architect T. Michael Manchester, Town Council felt more time needed to be devoted to proposed changes.

“This is not ready for prime time tonight,” said Mayor Markey Butler.

According to the town’s land-use code, which was last amended in 2013, homeowners and developers can pursue exemptions that allow them to exceed the floor area allowance of the lot they’re building or renovating on.

These exemptions include a basement exemption, which homes qualify for if at least 50% of the outside walls of the home’s basement level are subgrade. If a project qualifies for a basement exemption, developers can also add as much as 15% of the allowable floor area to the upper or lower levels of the homes as exempt space and have unlimited mechanical space are in the basement, as previously reported.

But over the years, town officials have seen the unlimited mechanical space not used as intended, often being converted to finished rooms for various living purposes after the fact, and even see fill added around a home so it does qualify for the basement exemption.

Community development officials said they feel this misuse could lead to potential public safety issues, negatively impact the residential character of the village with the potential for more mass and scale on the upper levels of homes, and allow homeowners to potentially circumvent the town’s floor area excise tax system, which benefits affordable housing in the community.

However, although Town Council generally agreed that the mechanical space exemption should not be unlimited and misuse should be addressed through a land-use code amendment, councilmembers felt there needed to be more discussion and research done on the best way for changes to be made.

Council also wants to hear more from the local developer and design community on the proposed land-use code changes, along with more from the town’s building officials.

Continued public discussion on the proposed land-use code amendments will take place at the May 4 regular meeting.

ANNUAL GRANT MONEY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS APPROVED

Town Council approved the $125,000 budgeted for the Citizens Grant Review Board to award its 2020 health and human service organization town grant winners with.

The board met before the COVID-19 crisis to review and discuss the 24 applications it received for the 2020 town grants, which go to health and human service agencies that provide a continuum of health care services or nonprofits seeking to enrich and promote the health and well-being of Snowmass Village residents.

While councilmembers questioned if the selected awardees should be re-evaluated in light of the COVID-19 crisis, town staff encouraged council to approve the grant selections and look at appropriating more funds to help with the pandemic if needed.

The $125,000 (up $25,000 from 2019) in grant awards fully or partially funded all applicant requests, including Challenge Aspen, Aspen Hope Center, Little Red School House, Snowmass Chapel, The Farm Collaborative and more.

OTHER COVID-19 RESPONSE UPDATES

Beyond its April 6 agenda items, Town Council also discussed a few other local responses and initiatives in place due to the COVID-19 crisis:

-After receiving complaints of improper social distancing at the skate park behind the town’s recreation center, town staff said increased signage will be put in place at all town parks this week. The parks were not closed to the public as of April 6, but staff urged village locals to follow social distancing and public health guidelines.

-Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk reminded village locals that free food pick up for Pitkin County residents is available every Wednesday at Aspen Middle School from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. If you are ill and/or cannot be there in person, call 970-205-7025.

Locals can also drop off food to be distributed to people in need every Friday at the same location from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Shenk said. Gift cards are also accepted.

-The Village Shuttle will continue to operate on a “bare bones” schedule, town staff said. As of April 6, the town shuttle system was moving about 90 people a day, mainly to and from the Snowmass Center, which is too high a volume to move to “dial for ride” service. For the schedule, visit snowmasstransit.com or use the TransitApp.

High Q, Snowmass Village’s only marijuana dispensary, remains open with some adjustments

This month hasn’t been easy for Snowmass Village businesses.

State and county public health orders targeted at slowing the spread of coronavirus have forced many non-essential retail and service operations to temporarily shut down, restaurants are closed for the rest of the season or are take-out and delivery only, and tourism will be relatively non-existent until summer at the earliest.

The impact on the town’s only marijuana dispensary is no different.

Since COVID-19 was first linked to the Aspen area in early March, High Q Snowmass has had to lay off some of its part-time seasonal staff, implement online and call-in ordering, cut back its hours from noon to 8 p.m. and up its sanitary and cleaning procedures.

The dispensary, which opened in December, also is being very selective with its inventory, opting not to bring in couriers with product from the Front Range in an effort to limit potential COVID-19 spread.

“It’s been a daily thing, you wake up and things are different every day,” said Reneé Grossman, owner of High Q.

As many businesses are experiencing, the public health orders and COVID-19 mitigation strategies are constantly being amended and evolving, keeping owners like Grossman on their toes.

When the Snowmass Sun spoke with Grossman on March 30, High Q was doing call-in and curbside pick-up orders only. No one was allowed in the dispensary doors, per state requirements.

A few hours later, Grossman called back to say those requirements had been updated, allowing Coloradans back into marijuana dispensaries so long as social-distancing requirements were enforced. At High Q in Snowmass, that means two people will be allowed in the Village Mall shop at a time.

But for Grossman, staying open isn’t just about serving customers and keeping money coming in — it’s about ensuring her employees continue bringing money home.

“I’m really doing my best to keep people working,” said Grossman, who has High Q dispensary locations in Snowmass, Carbondale and Silt. To do this, Grossman has moved some people from working at the High Q locations to working from home on other projects, like cleaning up the company’s point of sale system.

While she feels the facts that she made sure the High Q stores had extra alcohol wipes early on and that she is working to keep people on the payroll help build morale among employees, Grossman said High Q as a whole is in a “growth stage,” which also is reassuring to her staff.

Grossman is in the process of starting up a facility that manufactures solventless cannabis extracts, in the early stages of building a grow operation in Parachute and also is looking to open more High Q locations in the near future.

With all of these growth projects still in the works and no intentions of closing High Q due to the coronavirus pandemic (unless it becomes clear that is what’s best for public health), Grossman is focusing on staying positive for what lies beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

“I’m doing my best to support my team through this and letting them know that their safety is the most important thing,” Grossman said. “We appreciate our customers who wear gloves and masks as well and hope they will be patient with us during this time.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

“A zest for life”: Remembering Magne Nostdahl, longtime Snowmass ski instructor

There are a lot of words and phrases used to describe Magne Nostdahl, the Norwegian native, longtime ski instructor and one of the Snowmass ski school’s founding pros who died last month at 85.

Mike Kaplan, president and CEO of the Aspen Skiing Co. described Magne in a letter as a strong life force who “embodied everything that I love about this industry and this community.”

John Kneiper, manager of Skico’s ski and snowboard schools in Snowmass, wrote in a letter that Magne was a pillar of the Snowmass school with his radiant personality and love for sharing the mountain with others.

But all of the people who knew Magne, including his family, say he’ll be most remembered for his unfailing good nature and big, ever-present smile.

“He was seriously the happiest man I ever knew,” said Karin Nostdahl Wehse, one of Magne’s daughters. “He was so pleasant with people and so forgiving and so generous. He made everyone feel really good and I am just so proud to be his daughter.”

Wehse was born and raised in the Aspen-Snowmass area, went to CU Boulder, then followed in her dad’s footsteps and taught at the village’s ski resort. Her brother Svein and her son Erik also taught skiing at Snowmass, making the Nostdahls the ski school’s first three-generation instructor family in its history.

When asked what values her dad imparted on her and her two siblings, Wehse said the three had a great relationship with Magne growing up and into adulthood, and that he encouraged them to be adventurous, let them make their own mistakes, but was always there to catch them when they fell.

Wehse feels Magne’s approach to and love for life has rubbed off on all of his children and grandchildren, and that the family will continue to take part in all of the things he loved most, like skiing, biking and spending time in the mountains.

Magne first taught skiing during the winter of 1958-59 in Norway. That summer, Stein Eriksen, Olympic and World Champion ski racer, held interviews in Oslo for his ski school at Aspen Highlands.

Magne was interviewed and accepted to join the school as an instructor, which he did in winter 1959. Two years into his 50-year career teaching at all four Aspen-Snowmass mountains (42 years at Snowmass), Nostdahl met his wife, Connie, and they were together ever since.

“I had only planned to stay one winter,” Connie said, noting she and Magne married about a year after they met.

From running their own Norwegian-inspired gift shop in downtown Aspen called Scandinavian Design, to downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, biking, traveling and spending time together as a family, Connie said she and Magne loved residing in the Aspen-Snowmass community and is grateful for their life here.

“Magne was just a very unique partner through life. He had a zest for life, great ambitions and lots of insight into everything life threw at us,” Connie said.

“I gained so much from Magne. … I feel very fortunate to have lived the life I did with him. We hated to see him leave us, but after 58 years and him leaving us at 85, I just feel very, very blessed.”

But while Magne was loved deeply by his family, Connie said he also was well-loved by the Aspen-Snowmass community, which she feels speaks to his strong character and the positive influence he had on everyone he interacted with.

“Magne loved life, he was very special to everybody and very well-loved in this valley,” Connie said. “At age 85, he’s well remembered and will continue to be.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Nostdahl was one of the Snowmass ski school’s founding ski pros, not a co-founder of the school.

Town of Snowmass looking at land use code changes to mitigate exemption misuse

Town officials are proposing an amendment to the Snowmass land-use code that would change the way basement and mechanical space exemptions are measured and determined.

The changes are in response to a years-long trend of misuse of these exemptions in some redevelopment and new home projects, which community development officials feel impact public safety and the residential character of the village.

“What we’re seeing is people using what should be exempt space for mechanical for a different use that wasn’t included in the calculation of the floor area,” said Julie Ann Woods, town community development director.

“What we get real concerned about is when someone converts this space into a bedroom and it doesn’t meet the egress requirements, then it can become a real life safety issue.”

According to the current Snowmass land-use code, a developer building a new home or renovating an existing one is bound to the floor area ratio and limit of the lot they’re constructing on.

However, there are exceptions to and ways around this floor area allowance. Homeowners can opt to purchase Floor Area Excise Tax space, if eligible, or pursue garage, deck, mechanical and basement exemptions, according to town documents.

To qualify for a basement exemption, developers need to demonstrate that at least 50% of the outside walls of a home’s lowest level, or basement level, are subgrade, community development department officials explained.

If a project meets this exemption, developers can add as much as 15% of the allowable floor area to the upper or lower levels of the home as exempt space and have an unlimited mechanical space area in the basement, officials said. If a home doesn’t qualify for a basement exemption, mechanical space is limited to an additional 5% of the allowable floor area, but is still exempt space.

But instead of using the unlimited mechanical space as intended to house utilities and boilers, town officials often see these spaces as finished rooms used for various other living purposes. And if a home doesn’t qualify for a basement exemption, town officials have seen fill added around the home so that it does qualify and is granted the extra exempt space.

These manipulations of town standards to maximize floor area create potentially dangerous situations and can be difficult to navigate, town staff said.

“We don’t have much traction because even if someone has an 800-square-foot-plus room dedicated to mechanical and the mechanical is only taking up a small fraction of the room, the way our code reads right now we don’t really have any recourse,” said Brian McNellis, town senior planner.

On a recent morning in Town Hall, McNellis and Woods walked through some of the basement exemption misuses their department has run into.

The community development officials explained that they often don’t see this misuse until they are called to complete a final review and issue a certificate of completion or of occupancy, depending on the project; or years later when an owner goes to sell their home, realtors ask town planners to do a review and planners find space marked as exempt to be non-conforming.

“It’s always kind of an after the fact thing that we have to deal with,” Woods said, but noting it’s often remedied in a number of ways depending on the situation. “There are some options they have, but it comes back as ‘Oh, now we have to fix this because somebody didn’t follow the rules.’”

Woods and McNellis said this problem isn’t new to Snowmass — exemptions have been misused to maximize floor space area since 2013, which is when the current land use code language was approved to help lessen building permit review time and the mass and scale of structures, according to town documents.

Community development officials have been talking about bringing forth changes to the code to mitigate this misuse and better align with the 2013 intentions as a post-2018 town comprehensive plan initiative.

However, Woods said a few “more egregious” examples recently prompted the department to get the ball rolling and propose a few code changes:

Amend the way subgrade is measured so that’s from either existing or proposed finished grade, whichever is more restrictive

Eliminate the unlimited mechanical space within qualifying basement exemptions, determining the general mechanical space exemption as 5% of the allowable floor area

Clarify the code definitions of existing and finished grades.

“The goal of the proposed amendments would be to contribute to an improved environment and to the orderly development of the town by discouraging disturbance to sites and reducing above-grade mass and scale,” the town staff report and analysis of these changes states.

At the regular Town Council meeting March 2, Woods and McNellis presented these proposed land-use code changes and showed examples of exemption misuses.

After a lengthy discussion about if these changes would detract redevelopment and construction of new homes, or keep people from pursuing green energy alternatives — as both clean and new technology equipment can take up more mechanical space—council approved the first reading of the code-change ordinance.

But for architects like Michael Manchester, who submitted a detailed letter to the town evaluating the land-use code changes, the amendment won’t do much to impact residential mass and scale in the village and deters homeowners from pursuing clean energy options.

“The technology we put in homes today is very significant the 5% limit is nowhere near enough space,” Manchester said March 9. “Higher level technology takes up a lot more space, and if you ask someone to give up square footage to put it in, it won’t happen. We’re creating a situation that discriminates against alternate energy systems.”

Manchester has worked as an architect in Snowmass for 36 years and was a part of the committee that crafted the current land-use code language. He said he thinks some of the proposed changes are warranted and that the town’s concerns are valid.

But Manchester also feels focusing on floor area within a home is not going to affect the mass and density of the village and may not be the best way to tackle the exemption misuse issues.

For some time now, Manchester said he’s proposed the town enact height and building footprint limits to help control mass and density, and feels that may be a way to address the town’s concerns.

“I think trying to use (floor area ratios) to fix this problem doesn’t really relate to mass and scale,” Manchester said. “I actually think we’ve seen a reduction in people converting these spaces illegally because you can’t sell homes with illegal spaces.”

Manchester plans to attend the Monday council meeting, where elected officials will vote on the second reading of the ordinance enacting these land-use code changes. He said he wants council to understand how the changes will impact how homes are built and how much they cost, and hopes council does not take the decision lightly.

Mark Kittle, the town’s chief building official, said he’s weighed in on the code changes as well, agreeing that unlimited mechanical spaces in exempt basements have caused problems, but also that it’s important for these mechanical spaces to be large enough for maintenance workers to access the equipment inside safely. He sees that percentage aligning more with a 7.5% cap than 5%.

“Square footage is very valuable up here, that’s what it’s all about and that’s why you see these things happen,” Kittle said. “From a building standpoint, I’d rather see larger mechanical spaces to protect the workers.”

Woods and McNellis said they fully expect architects and other stakeholders to turn out for the council meeting Monday to express their opinions. They feel overall the town has a great working relationship with the design community, and agree that this is an important conversation to have with council and the community.

“Everyone isn’t doing this. … We just wanted to bring it to council’s attention, make them understand these sorts of things are happening,” McNellis said.

“We felt it was our obligation to bring this to Town Council to see if they could make a determination if they want to continue on with these regulations.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com