Archived Ants
Thursday
Apr212016

ISSUE #122: Aspen's pANTheon  4/18/2016

"Hence as a private man has a right to say what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a community to determine what they will give and grant of their substance for the administration of public affairs."  -- Samuel Adams, 1772

THE TAJ MAHAL CITY HALL - DID YA KNOW?

The City of Aspen is well on its way to building a new city hall.  Yep, council approved the massive capital project last August.  Four of five councilmen prefer a new 52,000 SF building to house municipal employees and government services under one roof as opposed to remodeling and using what we currently have.  And yes, they are all set and ready to spend $50 million for the project! Think I'm kidding?  I wish.  I'm not.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Beginning in 2000, city bureaucrats began scheming to build a temple to their own governmental greatness, under the dubious auspices of selling the unwitting (pre-Red Ant) public on the notion that somehow a town of 6,000 would be far better served by a municipal staff that was conveniently housed in-town and under one ginormous 52,000 SF roof.  As part of this grand plan, and to put a heavy coat of lipstick on the pig to fool the predominantly anti-development minded citizenry, the manufactured rationale for the Aspen Civic Relocation Project (ACRP, as they call it - I personally prefer "Taj Mahal City Hall" -  you decide) included:

  • All city services in one location, on city-owned land
  • No more leasing office space to house city functions
  • Armory (current city hall) returned to its historic configuration and re-purposed for "community use"
    • While admitting that the Armory currently DOES comply with life safety and accessibility code provisions, the bureaucrats simply don't think the historic structure "exemplifies" the most current and cutting edge codes, and, you know, everyone around the world is watching Aspen so that they can emulate us!
  • Revitalization of Galena Plaza and the creation of a "civic campus"
  • More public meeting rooms
  • A sustainable, energy efficient building (We should be leaders!!)
    • Sounds cool, sexy and green, right?  The 52,000 SF "one roof" solution would be located on Galena Plaza (think between the Library and the Courthouse where the ACRA offices are and including the Rio Grande Building)

From about 2006-2014, things related to this aggressive endeavor were relatively quiet - in public.  But the wheels were certainly turning!  In 2014, council held some outreach sessions and pushed forward with a master plan.  By summer 2015, at city staff's direction and as part of its Top 10 Goals for the year, council was quickly down to two choices:  1) remodel and expand the Armory, and re-purpose the ACRA offices and Rio Grande building, OR 2) the Taj Mahal City Hall at Galena Plaza.  And how crazy is this: the two choices had the same square footage and very similar costs!  How convenient - why re-purpose and re-use when you can build something shiny and new for essentially the same price!?!?  How green.  Not.

For those of us who have been watching, it's obvious what's gone down.  And it's nothing new.  With this council in particular, they just can't grasp the concept that the city manager (and thereby, his staff) works for them, not the other way around.  As a result, and in possibly the most egregious example of staff making a policy decision and directing council, city manager Steve Barwick and his minions simply put two choices before council and drove the entire agenda.

In late 2015, the city placed a vague "advisory" (non-binding) measure on the ballot.  Aspen 2B asked the electorate, "Which use for the Aspen Armory Site (City Hall) do you prefer for a long-range, 50-year plan?  Community Use or City Offices (choose one)."  To sweeten the deal, the city even told voters, "It's free.  There won't be a property tax increase (for a bond to finance the new building)."  Of course, in a community that feels undeniably entitled to "free stuff" whenever and wherever it becomes available, "Community Use" prevailed, narrowly, 1044-1021, even when the details of such use were vague at best, especially pertaining to finances.  It was hardly a mandate, but the city took the outcome as a big win and a green light from the community for its grandiose plans.

And here is perhaps the most preposterous rationale I've heard from the city in a long, long time.  They figured out how to attribute $27 million (yes, 27 MILLION DOLLARS) in "staff efficiency savings" (productivity??) to justify the Taj Mahal City Hall's one-roof concept.  Here it is, and I quote:  "A 1% in inefficiency for City Staff is $300,000 per year and $9 million over 30 years.  3% is $900,000 per year and $27 million over 30 years.  3% of a 7.5 hour nominal workday is 13.5 minutes.  Staff spends a lot of time walking between departments, grabbing a coffee off site, going off-site for meetings and anecdotal discussion, and much more than 15 minutes per day is spent due to departmental distances, finding meeting spaces and grabbing a coffee."  (They wrote it, I didn't.)  They actually believe that their own staff will be nearly $1 million per year more efficient if they are safely under one roof!?!? All of the anecdotal evidence of the 21st century workplace seems to be marshaled strongly against that.  Remember, this is the age of "the Cloud," "GoToMeeting" and Skype!  Somehow  the city's justification for building a single-building city hall is the argument that staff wanders around too much (while drinking coffee) if they're not all together in the same playpen.  Simply indefensible.

This was also perhaps the first time that Aspen citizens who do not regularly concern themselves with civic affairs learned the possibility that Aspen's  22,000 SF city hall was on the table as a potential giveaway.  (The issue was also buried amid the furor over the development of a small lodge on Main Street.)  And recall, earlier in 2015, council had brazenly "promised" the 7200 SF Old Power House to the Aspen Brewing Company and its rabble-rousing millennial compatriots.  As you can imagine, the bureaucrats were ecstatic; this victory at the polls fit perfectly into their rhetoric - when you give away nearly 30,000 SF of public space, surely you "need" more office space -- so why not a new building!!? 

The timing of all this excitement came additionally on the heels of the Aspen Art Museum's 2014 move from the city-owned 7200 SF Old Power House, the need for the Aspen Police Department to move out of the Pitkin County Courthouse and in to a proprietary space (another issue entirely, but one - even at 15,000 SF - I wholeheartedly support), the Building & Engineering Departments' need to vacate their (5400 SF) leased space in the former Aspen Daily News building on Hopkins due to the building's sale and impending redevelopment, Mountain Rescue's move from the small city-owned cabin (1000 SF) on Main Street, and the "children's safety" concerns of housing the Special Events and Transportation Departments in the (4400 SF) basement of the city-owned Yellow Brick building in the West End which leases some of its space to a daycare center.

Factor in notable impacts to the commercial real estate landscape in Aspen in recent years brought on by developers such as Mark Hunt and the redevelopment of significant amounts of older commercial real estate, and see just how dramatically the "space" game has changed.  Sure, it's always good to study the economics of long-term leases, something the city has never before given a whit about, but nobody could anticipate the amount of city-owned space that would be returned - vacant - to the city in this timeframe.

In this issue, The Red Ant will illustrate how much space the city actually has available and, in so doing, prove just how little more (if any) they need.  The lengths they have gone, the exaggerations and misrepresentations put forth, the preposterous and secretive accumulation and use of public funds, the hypocrisy (given the recent "emergency" halting of all land use applications in Aspen's commercial, service/commercial/industrial zones, neighborhood commercial and mixed zone districts), and the ignorance and complicity of 4 of 5 sitting members of city council will simply astound you.  (Data point:  Bert Myrin is the only one on council who objected to this ridiculous folly.  The other four, with their votes in favor, said, "Yes, please.")  Of course, I have my opinions on which city departments/services could and should go where, and other respected members of the community have different but equally compelling ideas, but the point of this missive is to inform you of just how badly we've been hoodwinked.

Yes, there is still time to slam the brakes on this thing, but it won't be easy.  Time is not on our side.  Nor is council.  And you can safely bet that the bureaucrats are salivating at the prospect of a new municipal HQ!! Buckle up!  Here are the cold, hard facts.

THE 52,000 SF NUMBER

City propaganda cites an unusual (for them) statistic:  the square footage for the Taj Mahal City Hall does NOT include increased office sizes for employees!!  It claims to reduce work space by 1100 SF.  The overall monolith will offer more public amenities (Aspen code word for "free stuff," I suppose) such as public meeting rooms and "shared program spaces" (whatever these are).  The plus-up of square footage is a mere 3300 SF.  Amazing what you can get for $50 million in Aspen these days!

How big is 52,000 SF, you ask?  To get your head around the Taj Mahal City Hall, the space approximates that of the following:

  • The White House (54,000 SF)
  • The playing portion - without end zones - of an NFL football field  (360' x 160' = 57,000 SF)
  • More than one acre of land (43,000 SF)
  • 2x The Wheeler Opera House (30,000 SF)
  • 2x Whole Foods in Basalt (30,000 SF)
  • Half the size of the Hotel Jerome (113,000 SF)

THESE PROPERTIES HOUSE THESE CITY OFFICES TODAY: A TOTAL OF 47,000SF

  • City Hall at The Armory - (city owned) 22,000 SF
  • Rio Grande Building levels 2 & 3 (city owned) 5400 SF
  • Canary Initiative and Asset Management Depts at the former Mountain Rescue Cabin (city owned) 1000 SF
  • Parking Dept in the TBD SF orange house at 540 E. Main St (city owned) 
  • Special Events & Transportation Departments at Yellow Brick basement (city owned) 4400 SF
  • Building & Engineering Depts at former Aspen Daily News Building basement (leased) 5400 SF
  • APCHA (housing) offices at Park Central West (leased) 1800 SF
  • Police Dept in Pitkin County Courthouse basement (shared with PitCo Sheriff) ~TBD SF
  • ACRA Building (shared with Stay Aspen Snowmass) 4500 SF

THESE CITY OFFICES ARE SOON TO RELOCATE, REGARDLESS

  • APCHA (housing) office:  vacating a 1800 SF lease
  • Parking Dept: TBD SF orange house at 540 E. Main St being redeveloped for new Aspen Police Dept
  • Building & Engineering Dept: vacating 5400 SF lease in ADN building due to redevelopment
  • Special Events Dept: vacating 2900 SF in Yellow Brick basement due to "children's safety concerns"
  • Transportation Dept:  vacating 1500 SF in Yellow Brick basement due to "children's safety concerns"
  • Aspen Police Department must vacate County Courthouse basement TBD SF

TOTAL city office space "relocating" due to displacement or safety:  ~12,000++ SF

Ugly note:  The parking department's office space "needs" are cited as 5200 SF.  As part of their "space accounting," they, like most other departments, made sure to include all of the storage space they need.  And, they notably included the square footage of the toll booth at the parking garage!!  Yep, even though this tiny (~30 SF) space won't be affected in the least by any of the potential development, the parking department threw in the nominal square footage just to make sure they get "what's theirs"!!!  Imagine what the other city departments did!!

CITY-OWNED SPACE NOT BEING CONSIDERED FOR OFFICE USE

  • Historic Victorian on 540 E. Main Street parcel: being "preserved" for "interpretive use" 1600 SF
  • Rio Grande Building level 1:  leased to Taster's Pizza 1000 SF
  • Old Power House: currently "promised" to Aspen Brewing Company and other entities 7200 SF
  • Mountain Rescue Cabin: it is more than a 2 min walk of parking garage 1000 SF
  • Basement at the Yellow Brick due to "children's safety" concerns 4400 SF

TOTAL city-owned space not being considered when space is so desperately needed:  ~15,000 SF

CITY-OWNED SPACES WITHIN A 2 MIN WALK OF PARKING GARAGE (THINK: CAMPUS)

  • Rio Grande Building levels 2 & 3: 5400 SF includes Rio Grande Room (public meeting space), currently being used by Library construction crew until June 2016
  • Armory:  who knew that 1900 SF of this valuable and crowded space was being used by COUNTY community development personnel?  They're leaving.  22,000 SF
  • ACRA offices: currently shared with Stay Aspen Snowmass  4500 SF

TOTAL "no build" city-owned space within a 2 minute walk of the parking garage:  ~31,000 SF

CITY SPACE EXPANSION OPPORTUNITIES WITHIN A 2 MIN WALK OF PARKING GARAGE

  • 9800 SF building earmarked for subsidized housing on the 540 E. Main Street parcel could easily become office space
  • Armory expansion (10,800 SF) into space east of the building 

TOTAL expansion opportunities within a 2 minute walk of the parking garage:  ~20,000 SF

Add it all up?  We're talking ~66,000 SF. You could even eliminate the unpopular 10,800 SF expansion of the Armory and you still have ~55,000 SF.  See what I'm talking about!?

*For ease of reading, (not that it is particularly easy), I took the artistic liberty of rounding the numbers.  You can just imagine how forthcoming the city was with details such as these, and several of us have been tracking down these figures for months.  For matters of this issue, the rounded numbers and conservative estimates in no way materially affect my argument.  They just make it easier to read.  A little.

WHAT COULD BE PURCHASED WITHIN A 2 MIN WALK OF PARKING GARAGE? 

Given what's available (see above), it's hard to imagine that we'd need to purchase much, if anything.  However, if we did need some more space, it would make sense to buy it (and buy in close proximity to the other city office spaces) if the premise of this whole exercise is to eliminate leases and create a campus of sorts.  But, given the city's abysmal track record with property purchases (think: BMC lumberyard), each potential purchase scenario should be thoroughly and publicly vetted and analyzed by a real estate professional, or six.  Here is what is being kicked around:

  • 4800 SF for Building & Engineering Departments at The Mill (behind Hotel Jerome): $5 million
  • TBD space at the corner of Galena & Main to free up the city-owned 4500 SF ACRA space and place the chamber in a far more visible/useful/accessible location: $5.25 million

TOTAL useful space the city could purchase within a 2 minute walk of the parking garage:  ~7000+ SF

And note:  With a value-based real estate purchase, long term options obviously include resale and leasing opportunities.  Besides, when purchasing, tenant finish expenditures are not inherently thrown away.

WHY IS THE CITY SOON TO LEASE A SPACE FOR BUILDING & ENGINEERING?

Interesting that I'd include potential "purchase" options in this analysis, huh?  Well, what no one else will tell you is that even with the 52,000 SF, $50 million Taj Mahal City Hall moving forward, the city still needs more space!  In fact, they're thiiiiiiiiis close to signing a lease (yes, a dreaded lease!!) for at least $55/SF plus $300/SF in tenant improvements on a 4800 SF space in The Mill, the redeveloped office building behind the Hotel Jerome.  Yes, that math works out to be (and again, I'm conservatively rounding) $264,000/yr of taxpayer money in rent PLUS over $1.4 million in tenant finishes that the city will never recoup.  Did someone just flush a toilet??

Without burying you in elaborate financial detail, here is a quick and dirty lease vs own analysis (no net present value, nothing sophisticated, just a forward-looking comparison of costs and asset values):

  • Leasing 4800 SF at $55/SF is $264,000 a year.  Purchasing same 4800 SF at $5 million (with debt service at 3.5% for 20 years, 100% financed, 6% closing costs) is $373,000.
  • Five year lease cost is $1.32 million.  Five year debt service cost is $1.865 million.
  • Tenant improvements are $1.4 million in either case.
  • Estimated net asset value of the leased space at the end of 5 years is $0.  Estimated net asset value of the purchased space after 5 years is $5.2 million (assuming 1% growth in value over the first 5-year ownership period).
  • Here's the net impact:  5 year financial cost of leasing the space is $2.7 million down the drain.  Five year financial benefit of purchasing is $1.9 million.  (If the city purchases the space, even after debt service on a 20-year mortgage and the same $1.4 million tenant improvement costs, the city has a net financial gain of at least $1.9 million after 5 years because it owns an asset worth $5 million.)

So, that's about a $4.5 million swing in value to the city between leasing and purchasing.  And they're leasing ... Go figure.  

A SOLUTION: ONE 9800 SF RE-PURPOSED NEW BUILDING SOLVES IT

Yes, there is a straightforward solution to this.  Take the Armory (22,000SF) + ACRA offices (4500 SF) + Rio Grande Building levels 2 & 3 (5400 SF) + the Old Power House (7200SF) + the Yellow Brick basement for in-town storage needs (4400 SF),  and develop the planned 9800 SF building on the 540 E. Main St parcel into an office building, not housing.  Do the math. See, you're right there at ~$53,000.  No Taj Mahal needed.  And maybe no "purchase option," either.

Sad about converting the 9800 SF building behind the new police station earmarked for subsidized housing to much-needed office space?  Get over it.  Remember the 1000 SF cabin on W. Main Street vacated by Mountain Rescue?  Bingo.  Build subsidized housing there on that lot, if you must.  Ten or twelve in-town units a few blocks away are still 10 or 12 units.

HOW ABOUT THE $50 MILLION UNDER BARWICK'S MATTRESS?

The Red Ant always says, "Follow the money."  Well, brace yourselves for what I've found.  (I know, sometimes the numbers get "boring".... But that's what city staff counts on council to think too.  C'mon, you're better than that.  I've tried to make it easy.  Besides, it's YOUR money!!)

The city tracks capital projects by project number. If you ever want to know the total amount spent on a capital project in the city, no matter how many years it has been in progress, this number is your key.

For this analysis, three project numbers are critical:

  1. 91-955144: (Master Planning/Facility Development)   According to the city's February 2016 capital project report, the city has spent about $400K on this project since 2014, and plans to spend the remaining $38K of its $438K total project budget, ostensibly to develop the implementation plan for the now-proposed Taj Mahal City Hall and the new police station.
  2. 91-95325: (Building Replacement /new Aspen Police Dept)  The new cop shop has a total project cost of $13,172,000 of which the city has spent a little over $1 million so far.
  3. 91-95145: (Aspen Building Replacement Project - City):  This is the Taj Mahal. Through February of this year, the city has already spent over $2.5 million on this project -- $1.054 million in 2015 and a whopping $1.57 million so far in 2016, according to the city's detailed financial reports available on its website.

So to take stock, between these three projects, through February of 2016, the city has already spent almost $4 million on its new APD and the Taj Mahal City Hall, and that's just the beginning.

NO BUDGET FOR THE TAJ: While the city's capital projects report, a 40-page description of every capital project under way in the city from the Wheeler Opera House to the water utility, includes $3.898 million for, I assume, pre-construction costs of the Taj Mahal City Hall -- all of that money was included in 2015's budget resolution which has now lapsed.  The 2016 budget resolution approved by Council last fall includes exactly $0 (ZERO DOLLARS) in budget authority for the Taj Mahal City Hall.

Why is this important?  Because cities must budget annually for their capital improvement costs!  If you don't budget for a project, you don't have to explain where the money is coming from to pay for it.  

This "no budget authority" clearly did not stop Barwick and his minions from spending almost $1.6 million on the project in the first two months of the year. How does city council permit staff to spend this kind of money on a project that it did not even budget for, and one that is still at least a year away from breaking ground? (The city has yet to even file a land use application for the project!!!)

Legally, the city IS in compliance with state law because it budgets at the fund rather than the project level, and the city's capital project fund contains sufficient unused budget authority from other projects to absorb the year-to-date costs of on the unbudgeted Taj Mahal City Hall project.   But it is emblematic of a lack of spending control endemic to city capital projects over the years.  Does anybody remember the Burlingame subsidized housing project fiasco????  (While technically "legal," this is VERY POOR budgeting. The city's capital projects report treats the project as if it has budget authority even though it does not.  In Colorado, you cannot adopt multi-year budgets for capital projects, therefore you must re-authorize funding annually.  What Aspen is doing provides an opportunity for the city to piecemeal big projects and, in so doing, never show the public what the entire budget is in the annual budget resolutions.)

Where DOES all that money come from anyway? The financing plan for the Taj Mahal City Hall remains undisclosed.  You see, when you don't budget for your single largest capital project, you don't have to disclose how you are going to pay for it!!

And because there is no 2016 budget for the Taj Mahal City Hall, there is no funding plan.  But you can bet that paying for this monstrosity will involve massive transfers from the city's water, electric, parks and recreation, and other operating funds, and yes, maybe even that cash cow, the Wheeler Opera House fund. Each of these funds operates as a separate enterprise or special purpose operation of the city.  That is, until the city needs its money!!

A lot of cash is about to change hands within city hall so the bureaucrats can have their Taj Mahal and not be subject to a TABOR-required public vote. How much and where from remain a mystery.  But through the mystique of inter-fund transfers, voila!  The money will magically appear as if from under city manager Steve Barwick's multi-million dollar mattress.

Overall, at the end of February 2016, according to its month-end financial report, the city of Aspen had over $130 million in cash and invested assets under management.  These assets make up the combined fund balances of all the city's different funds.  A great portion of that money is about to be re-allocated to the Taj Mahal. 

Dontcha think, even for a minute, that maybe, just maybe, the right thing might be to hold a public vote to approve this massive expenditure of taxpayer dollars, especially in an environment where money is desperately needed elsewhere in our community: schools, mental health -- just to name two???  No, it's not required.  But council sure could make it happen.  Just sayin'.

WHY THE NEW COP SHOP IS OK

After years of sharing tiny basement space in the Pitkin County Courthouse with the sheriff's department, the Aspen Police Department desperately needs its own space.  The cramped quarters and obscene lack of privacy is outdated and unacceptable given modern law enforcement standards.  This has been a long time coming and should be viewed as completely separate from the Taj Mahal City Hall debacle, despite both its proximity and its timing.  

Council approved the new cop shop in August 2015 and the city has already submitted a land use application for the 15,000 SF facility.  Recall, the parcel at 540 E. Main Street was originally acquired for the purpose of essential municipal use.  (Initially, the fire department looked into it but opted to redevelop their Hopkins Avenue location.)  With the new 15,000 SF, the community gains a multi-purpose room for community meetings, trainings and emergency/special incident management.  And yes, unfortunately, we occasionally have incidents that warrant such use.  The proprietary space for the Aspen Police Department will additionally be a huge improvement in maintaining the dignity and privacy of those who "visit" the APD.

This $13 million train has already left the station.  It was going to happen regardless of the Armory or Galena decision.  Embrace it.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Knowledge is power, folks.  And too few people know about this. 

Share this issue of The Red Ant with your friends by forwarding it.

Write to the papers:

Curtis Wackerle   curtis@aspendailynews.com

Lauren Glendenning   lglendenning@aspentimes.com

Write to council:

Adam Frisch  adam.frisch@cityofaspen.com

Art Daily  art.daily@cityofaspen.com

Ann Mullins   ann.mullins@cityofaspen.com

Bert Myrin   bert.myrin@cityofaspen.com

Steve Skadron   steve.skadron@cityofaspen.com

Monday
Feb152016

ISSUE #121: FlamboyANT Madness  2/11/16

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it." 

-- Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle

ASPEN HATES CARS: PARKING RATES TO INCREASE THIS SUMMER

With the goal of getting fewer people to drive and park their cars in Aspen, the city of Aspen will be raising parking rates 50% at meters in the 16 square blocks of the downtown core as a 3-month experiment in June, July and August.  The brain trust at the city parking department estimates that 60-70% of the downtown parking spaces are currently being used by working locals who simply want to be close to their offices or shops.  Perhaps this hefty hike will move some of them to the bus or to the city's parking garage.  It will be interesting to see.  I envision a windfall for the parking department and, without viable AND ATTRACTIVE parking alternatives, very little change in behavior.

Then, missing the point entirely and flying directly in the face of one of council's top 10 goals for the year (to devise some concrete plans to ease traffic and also make it easier to find parking spots downtown), our car-averse mayor additionally suggested outlawing vehicles on Galena Street and the block of East Cooper between Paradise Bakery and Boogies in hopes of making town more "pedestrian friendly."  Somehow, this genius seems to think that by removing 80-100 parking spaces and expanding our pedestrian malls will make parking easier downtown.  Go figure.  But that's what we're up against, folks!  Thankfully, his ridiculous suggestion was not given much attention.

Aspen Daily News columnist Paul Menter points out that the parking enterprise fund generated revenue equal to about 170% of its annual operating costs over the past three years - on average just under $1.5 million per year more than it spends on operations.  As of November 2015, the parking fund balance was nearly $3.9 million, nearly twice its annual operating budget and that's AFTER kicking in $5.7 million toward the Rio Grande Plaza capital improvement project.  (Read his column HERE.)  With those kinds of dollars, one would hope that the city could come up with a "fast, frequent and free dedicated park and ride service from either a new lot at the airport or the existing Brush Creek park and ride, or both."  Without viable new solutions, the problem will only fester. 

THE CHOKE POINT: THE CASTLE CREEK BRIDGE

In yet another car-averse move, our friends at the Open Space and Trails board, along with We-Cycle and the powerful bike lobby have effectively convinced council to temporarily NARROW the Castle Creek Bridge by one foot in each direction from 12' to 11' in an effort to provide a wider designated "multi-use lane" for bicyclists across Aspen's primary choke point this summer.  But let's face it, the primary, unspoken rationale is to deliberately congest the primary entrance to Aspen as a further deterrent to having cars in town.  The bikers and pedestrians already have a dedicated egress along West Hopkins that connects with a nice path across the Marolt property.  They just need to be required to use it!!  Even with a widened path crammed onto the already narrow bridge, bikers will still use the traffic lane.  It's just what they do.  Pedestrians and those with strollers in the dedicated lane will further add to the problem.  Colorado 82 is a state highway.  It is entirely possible to restrict bike and pedestrian access.  To do just the opposite is a nightmare waiting to happen!  It is one thing to encourage bike riding, but to deliberately choke the main artery in and out of town for the sake of a couple hundred vocal bicyclists has ramifications FAR BEYOND the canary initiative or whatever is truly driving this, no pun intended.  Besides, if the experiment is a success (and assuming no one dies), just imagine the narrower traffic lanes on the bridge when 2-3 feet of snow are piled up separating the lanes. 

The "down the road" next step to this folly is likely to make Hallam Street into a West Hopkins-like bike corridor.  You see, the biking crowd (that already has permission not to stop at stop signs in Aspen) doesn't want to have to cross Main Street to get to the Music Tent or Institute.  Let's just restrict another Aspen street and change all the driving patterns in the West End!  Unintended consequence:  the traffic that leaves town by way of weaving through the West End will be back out on Main Street, further adding to the congestion.

Council, in its hatred of cars and in its inimitable fashion, has agreed to this dangerous nonsense for the summer of 2016, the very summer when major commercial construction in Aspen will approach levels not seen in several generations:  a new city hall, Pitkin County building expansion, a new hotel at the Sky Hotel location, a new Aspen Club, a new building on Hopkins where the Aspen Daily News building now stands. Brace yourselves!!

Biking enthusiast and rational thinker Mike Maple stated, "While improving connections for other modes of travel is a worthy objective, the proposed Castle Creek Bridge & Hallam Street project will violate the Hippocratic concept, 'first do no harm.'  The proposed Cemetery Lane, Castle Creek Bridge/Hallam Street corridor improvements should be substantially abandoned and tax payer funds should be focused on improving the pedestrian/bicyclist connection from Cemetery Lane/west of the roundabout under Highway 82 to the Marolt Bridge and the Hopkins Avenue bike way. The City, with the input of Pitkin County, RFTA and CDOT, should focus on improving, not aggravating, vehicular access to and from Aspen."  Exactly.  But don't hold your breath - even though you'll want to, given the inevitable horrendous traffic jam emissions in our future.

STEVE SKADRON: ASPEN'S CRYBABY MAYOR UNFIT TO LEAD

Chagrined, confused and frequently emotional at the council table, mayor Skadron recently addressed the ACRA board and asked members to embark on a letter-writing campaign to push back against dissenting "negative" voices in the community.  In his belief bubble, things in Aspen have "never been uglier."  Really?!  Sure, there is political dissent in Aspen.  We have seen a significant spike in development and there is a huge airport project on the horizon.  Some resent the changes necessary to keep Aspen competitive in the 21st century.  Some still want to bring back the Quiet Years.  There has ALWAYS been political dissent here!  But to utilize one's elected position to attempt to silence those who disagree is, frankly, anti-American.  What an embarrassment.  The good news is that the business leaders on the ACRA board gently reminded our sensitive mayor that "the very foundation of this town is the resort and community working together."  Ya think?! 

THE PETER FORNELL RETIREMENT PROGRAM

In order to build or expand a home in Aspen, you're all aware that the city has long exacted a pound of flesh on a per square footage basis for the privilege.  This punitive charge is ostensibly to mitigate for "employees generated" by your new larger space, and no, it does not mean the employees whose jobs were created in the actual construction of said premises.  With a larger house, surely you need more maids, nail technicians and lawn mowers so you must "mitigate" financially for housing them.  (Never mind the 1.5% Real Estate Transfer Tax -- RETT -- you paid when you purchased  your property, two-thirds of which went toward the subsidized housing fund.)  A long-used mitigation tool for new construction and additions was "cash-in-lieu," a per square foot payment that went toward subsidized housing.  Always controversial, the program recently came under greater scrutiny.

About 2 years ago, in an effort to more aggressively punish those who wish to develop or redevelop residential properties, city staff proposed TRIPLING the cash-in-lieu payment for subsidized housing mitigation, from $78 per square foot to $230.  Enough citizens protested this outrageous increase that the city agreed to hire outside consultants to determine the "real" cost of employee generation for residential housing on a square footage basis.  The outside consultants came back with mitigation numbers FAR below what the city had been charging for 20 years.  Instead of reducing the mitigation fee to represent reality, the city decided to do the following:

They reduced the cash-in-lieu per square foot  to about $40, representing reality, however, they decided that cash-in-lieu payments would only be available for a small addition or small house, about 1300 square feet.  Anything bigger than that must use other means of subsidized housing mitigation or go to Council and ask for a hardship exemption requesting that cash-in-lieu be paid.  The only acceptable alternate means of mitigation now are:

1-Build a subsidized housing unit on your site, deed restrict it, and SELL it to a subsidized housing-approved employee.

2-Buy a free market unit in town and "buy it down" to subsidized housing category level.

3-Buy a "certificate" from local developer Peter Fornell for a unit in a housing complex he has built in town in a special agreement with the city.  (All his certificates for existing inventory are now gone.)

So, for anyone building a new house or expanding more than about 1300 square feet, you either have to buy a unit down in the city, build a subsidized unit on your land and sell it, petition council for a waiver to be able to pay cash-in-lieu, or somehow buy one of Fornell's certificates wherever they are and at whatever price they are currently trading.

With regard to the special deal that Fornell struck with the city to build housing and sell certificates on the open market to address this whole "mitigation" scenario, the city says it is up to the free market to create more certificates, and whatever they are worth will reflect the cost of housing mitigation.  Essentially, the city is imposing an impact fee on any new residential construction, but the cost of that fee is essentially market driven by Peter Fornell's certificate pricing or that of anyone else who does it.  Is this alright with you?

CENTENNIAL: THE ASPEN NANNY STATE

I have long written about the beleaguered Centennial subsidized housing project and its capital reserves (or, better put, lack thereof) woes.  To briefly recap, the property managers of Centennial's 148 rental units (built at the same time as the owned units), have long warned the homeowners to invest in preventative maintenance on the 1980s era buildings.  But they didn't.  As a result, there has been extensive damage from water saturation to major structural beams and load-bearing studs and walls.  It's a legitimate mess.  But there are responsibilities of home ownership.  For many years, the HOA at Centennial never even collected monies for its reserve account.  Today, estimates for the fix range from $3.5 to $10 million.  But the question is, who pays?

The Red Ant says, it's obvious.  Unfortunate, but obvious.  The owners.  In the real world, HOA dues are collected, and when these aren't enough to cover unexpected or even planned maintenance, owners are assessed.  In subsidized housing, it should be no different.  (Any fool who has purchased a Centennial unit in recent years is especially responsible for such costs; this is hardly a new problem!  I just can't believe that lenders enabled such foolery.)  Even assistant city manager aptly-named Barry Crook told the Daily News in 2013 that "he was not wavering in his stance that it is not the government's responsibility to pay for repairs to the ownership units."

But how the times have changed!  Faced with a lawsuit (that has questionable standing) from the Centennial owners, the city seems to be backing down.  The latest is that the city is looking at putting $16 million of public money into the capital reserve accounts of local subsidized housing HOA's.  Given that the current system does not reward the owner for taking care of maintenance while it does when a kitchen or bath is upgraded, most HOAs defer their maintenance.  A 2012 HOA reserve study showed that on average, capital reserve cash on hand at APCHA's HOAs were at 22% of where they should be.  

How the "public" gets reimbursed for this nanny action is anyone's guess.  (My guess is that it's just more free money thrown at a broken system.) There are responsibilities of home ownership.  We are clearly selling units to people who do not understand this, and even if they do, choose not to fulfill this responsibility.  The problem is once again with the oversight and control of this valuable public inventory.  Ought we rethink the "sale" of subsidized properties?  Wouldn't $16 million be better spent on buying back owned units and renting these out?  Obviously, the rents would include monies for capital reserves.

And, with 1600 owned units in our APCHA subsidized housing inventory, just think of the precedent this public cash infusion sets.

MORE ANT MUSINGS ON SUBSIDIZED HOUSING

Just a thought on subsidized housing and, as you know, I've had many over the years:  Why on earth can't legitimate businesses and non-profits participate in the housing lottery?  Let's face it, they'd be FAR BETTER stewards of our housing inventory than Johnny Random who doesn't pay his HOA dues and trashes his unit.  Imagine our friends who own Peach's Café, for example.  They have constant employee turnover.  Imagine if they were able to buy an APCHA unit to rent to their own employees.  Sure, housing would be tied to employment, but then they'd likely have a lot more consistency with employees who have an incentive to work there for the whole season.  It's scalable.  My guess is that Peach's would pay their HOA dues regularly and on time.  And, because their own employees inhabit the unit, there is built-in oversight on the unit being properly cared for.  To me, it's ridiculously obvious.  And furthermore, you and I would know that at least one subsidized housing unit would be housing actual employees!!

For too long, there has been a ridiculous aversion to housing being tied to employment.  "What if someone loses their job?  Then they'd lose their housing," the subsidized locals whine.  Exactly.  All the more reason not to lose your job, I say.  It's just how the world works.  The mortgage lenders don't care if you lose your job, break your leg or crash your car.  They care about one thing, your payment.  Again, it's just the way the world works.  Why should subsidized housing in Aspen be any different?

FOOD TAX REFUND

Tis the season.  HERE is the link for your City of Aspen food tax refund of $50.  Aspen residents who have lived within the city limits for the entire year of 2015 and are registered voters are eligible.  (And if you're 65 or older, you get and additional $50 PLUS a $50 senior citizen allowance!!  That's $150!) $50 is $50 so get yours.  Deadline is 5p on April 15.  And if you don't need it, The Red Ant is always open to donations to offset costs!! (PO Box 4662, Aspen, CO  81612)

Monday
Jan042016

ISSUE #120: No Holiday tANTrum

"Despite the enormous role that local government plays in our daily lives, the Constitution makes not one mention of it." 

-- Anthony Albanese

POWER HOUSE PARTY BARN: AN UPDATE, SORT OF

It's been very quiet at the Library lately.  Or, better put, it's been very quiet where the Library temporarily operates amidst their expansion -- at the Old Power House.  This is as it should be.  For one, libraries are quiet places.  And for another, the Old Power House is located in a long-standing residential neighborhood in Aspen that is zoned R-30 (residential).  In fact, all land north of the Roaring Fork River in Aspen is zoned R-30.  Again, as it should be.  The Library, like the Aspen Art Museum before it, can legally occupy the space in this R-30 neighborhood because of a special overlay for "civic, arts and cultural uses."  As a NIMFY (not to be confused with NIMBY because the Old Power House is in my FRONT yard), I love having a museum, a library just outside my door - these are wonderful neighbors.

But is the quiet to last?  In early 2015, against its own directive to attract local non-profit applicants for tenancy at the Old Power House, council rejected proposals from numerous qualified groups and chose instead "The Aspen Power Plant (APP)," a conflagration of boisterous, millennial-pleasing entities that promised in their proposal to offer libations and "provide events at the Old Power House morning, noon and night, 365 days of the year."  This selection was just that, a selection.  It was not an ordinance.  It is not law.  And that's a good thing.  Several council members learned the error of their choice when it became clear that a for-profit brewery, bar, television station, public event space (indoor and out), subsidized office space and event planning company did not exactly fit into the "civic, arts and cultural uses" overlay to the R-30 zoning of the property. 

There's quiet alright.  Not a peep coming from the city regarding its negotiations with the "APP" for the lease of the Old Power House.  Since the APP's model does not adhere to the R-30 zoning with the established overlay, what is the city's plan?  Crickets.  Yes, council got caught up in the romanticism of the "party barn" idea, but when it came down to brass tacks, changing the zoning of such a building in a residential neighborhood to public, commercial or perhaps even industrial use simply should not happen.  According to Aspen Public Radio, plans will be made public in January.  

LIBRARY EXPANSION: BECAUSE YOU ASKED

You asked, so I looked into it.  "In 2010, voters rejected a $5 million bond toward a $10 million expansion of the Pitkin County Library that would take the building from 32,000sf to 40,000sf (a 25% increase).  What is going on over there when the papers are reporting on a current $14.3 million construction project that is benefitting from a $1 million balance transfer from the county?"

In short, what's happening now (vs. 2010) is a completely different project.  The increase in size will be 7000sf, but this project will be built out over the city's parking garage on an existing easement, in a coordinated effort with the city amidst its garage replacement construction in order to split costs proportionally.  The 2015-16 project inherently invites comparisons to the earlier proposal, but it entails a more expensive infrastructure (steel beams) and some serious capital replacement (carpet, painting, roof repairs, skylight replacement, ceiling replacement, LED light fixtures, and lighting control and installation).  The earlier proposal was the library's attempt to present taxpayers with the least expensive way to expand.  Two primary goals of the current expansion are to provide a meeting room for public use as well as a "safe, vibrant children's room."  Both will be noteworthy enhancements to the library's offerings.

The new section, on the east side of the property, is a one-story split level addition, with a lock-off meeting room and an outdoor roof deck above.  The entire interior of the library will be reconfigured to enhance ADA accessibility, create an area for teens, provide restrooms on every floor, consolidate staff rooms on the lower level, relocate and widen the east staircase and update the furnishings.  Look for a small café to further enhance the library experience.

Financially, finally The Red Ant can share a "good news" story.  Exercising fiscal restraint and value engineering, librarian Kathy Chandler and county manager Jon Peacock have masterfully managed the funding of this $14.3 million project - and please note the impressive fundraising campaign.  In short:

  • Endowment at the start                          $7,414,000
  • Donations and pledges (2014-2019)         $4,679,000
  • CORE Grant*                                           $ 154,000
  • Existing fund balance**                           $1,089,000
  • Advance from Pitkin County***               $1,000,000

TOTAL                      $14,336,000

*The CORE grant, from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, recognizes the library's commitment to installing energy efficiency upgrades.

** The existing fund balance refers to the library's capital replacement budget not spent in advance of the project (deferred maintenance, etc.).

***The advance from Pitkin County should be viewed as a "cash flow" bridge; donations (2014-2019) are pledged but will not all be collected this year.  The advance will be repaid over the next two years in $500K increments from donations and/or tax revenues already budgeted.

In emptying every last coffer to fund the project, the library continues to independently fundraise.  The goal is to reach a $14.8 million target number so as to replenish funds (such as housing) that were depleted in order to make this a reality.  Please consider rewarding this remarkable effort:  www.pitcolib.org  The expanded library will open in Summer 2016.

SKADRON SAVES THE PLANET BUT STILL WANTS HYDRO!

Just back from his triumphant boondoggle (we paid $2332 for his airfare, cabs and hotel) to the Paris climate talks -- yes, in Aspen the belief is still strong that what we do in our little town will motivate global leaders to become as green as we are because everyone wants to be like Aspen -- mayor Steve Skadron shocked opponents of the now-shuttered hydro plant by balking at the majority of council's directive to city staff to find an alternate use or buyer for the custom $1.6 million turbine that has been gathering dust in a city warehouse since the project was killed 18 months ago.  Prompted by Jim Markalunas, who operated the city's 19th century hydro plant until it was closed in the 1950s, Skadron extolled the city's historic connections to hydro power and his personal preference for home-generated energy.  He then stated that the city should not sell the turbine, rather, we should figure out how to get the hydro plant built!!  Should we fear Hydro 2.0?  According to sources, The Red Ant has learned that "there is no way in hell" that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would issue the city a permit for the Castle Creek Energy Center.  With over $10 million spent (or better put, flushed down the drain) and a public advisory vote to put a nail in the CCEC's coffin, it's remarkable that our mayor just can't let go.  Remarkable, and frightening.

HOW ABOUT BUBBLE WEEK?

I followed with interest the application for a patio tent submitted by The Grey Lady restaurant on the Mill St pedestrian mall.  Last year, the city granted them a permit to enclose their sizeable patio from January through April.  When they returned this fall to ask for another go, council showed some interesting colors.  The request was denied, of course, (but later approved for December 24 - Jan 3 only) but not before Adam Frisch acknowledged "a sincere over-demand for seating in town at dinnertime."   And he's right.  Mayor Skadron played the precedent card, worrying that other restaurants might come forward with similar requests.  One of The Grey Lady's owners then asked why this would be a bad thing.  Bingo.  Skadron and council are of the belief that tents are inherently unseemly and "detract from community character."  I disagree.  I believe that during the winter, specifically during the holidays, the best community character Aspen can present is one that welcomes and comfortably accommodates all of our guests.  If every restaurant with a patio wants to tent and heat that area in order to accommodate more visitors, well then by all means let's help make it happen.  How easy would it be to formulate some simple and safe guidelines for restaurant owners to expand their premises on a short term basis, say December 19 - January 3?  We've all been to parties in attractive tents.  I love the idea of walking through Aspen with several visible dinner parties going on.  How vibrant and festive.  And welcoming.

RUBEY PARK: REALLY?!?

Have you checked out our new $9.3 million publicly-funded bus station at Rubey Park?  The depot serves over 2 million RFTA passengers annually and it was decided that a bigger building would better serve those who ride the bus.  Sure, it looks nice enough.  And it should for that kind of money.  But I will never understand why city planners and council didn't look at the bigger picture.  Why on earth is our bus depot stationed on Durant Street, front at center at the base of our glorious mountain?  For the real money spent on refurbishing the 30-year-old station, ought we not have considered moving our transportation hub to a less visible and less impactful locale, such as down by Rio Grande Park?  It's where the public parking lot is and where city's new offices will be.  Surely, there could be less impactful shuttles running continuously through town and to the gondola.  But no.  $10 million: easy come, easy go.  Just like all those buses, clogging up the center of downtown.

PARKING FUTURES

You might be traveling through Rubey Park sooner than you think!  Despite the fact that Aspen's traffic has remained lighter than 1993 levels for 22 years, downtown parking remains a hideous problem.  The city is working to address this with a couple of dynamic pricing systems:  charging based on time of year (lower prices in the off seasons, status quo pricing in January, February, early April, early June, September, early October and early December, and 50% higher pricing in March, late June, July, August and late December) or by location:  charge the most for the four busiest in-town blocks.  Look for parking changes in the new year.  Just don't look for solutions -- or more spaces.

A BRIGHT LIGHT IN 2016: GORSUCH HAUS

Perhaps taking a page from John Sarpa (who masterfully steered the soon-to-be redeveloped Sky Hotel through the local approval process), locals Jeff Gorsuch, Bryan Peterson, Paul Fox and Jim DeFrancia are on the verge of bringing forth an exciting new hotel project that is sure to please locals and visitors alike.  It's called Gorsuch Haus.  Imagine a new, small European-style hotel and second Ajax base area, finally, in the place where it all began.  To honor our ski racing heritage, Gorsuch Haus will revitalize and reactivate the historic portal to Ajax -- the 1A side of Aspen Mountain.  And notably, Gorsuch Haus won't be burdening the community with variance requests; housing will be provided on-site and mitigated in-town, and parking will be accommodated beneath the property itself.  The step-down architecture provides for many levels, none more than 49' in height.

Designed a north-south axis between the Mountain Queen and Shadow Mountain condos, the 75,000sf (above grade) hotel concept on 2 acres will offer 81 "keys" (61 rooms, 6 for sale condos and 7 additional lock-off rooms) in an "upside-down" format:  the public areas and apres ski deck are at the top, while the rooms step down the mountain.

The applications for Gorsuch Haus go in to the city any day now.  There are some land use hurdles to overcome, and serious questions of whether the 1A lift replacement can be moved further down the mountain are still to be sorted out.  (At press time, the Forest Service has approved SkiCo's request to replace 1A...) But this is a seminal opportunity for Aspen, not to mention our ski racing legacy.  And it's important to know the facts. 

We missed a chance several years ago to reinvigorate the 1A side of the mountain.  (Thanks, Mick.)  As a result, the upcoming 2017 FIS World Cup Finals in Aspen are in jeopardy.  Gorsuch Haus, if approved, won't be built in time for the race, but it will send an important and loud signal to the ski racing world (and governors) that Aspen values its ski racing history AND future.  It's rare when opportunities like this come around a second time.  I encourage you to familiarize yourselves with this project, its offerings and its challenges.  The more you know, I'm confident that you too will share my optimism and embrace this inspiring answer to "the 1A challenge."

Check it all out (including maps and renderings) HERE

HOLIDAY THROWBACK

I wasn't so clever this season, but in re-reading this popular reader favorite from 2012, it's amazing how relevant much of it still is!  Cheers!!  Click HERE

Poem or no poem, at this time of year, I'm reminded how grateful I am that you read what I write and for the valuable tips and feedback.  Keep 'em coming!

 

At The Red Ant

The fun never ends...

Merry Christmas to you,

Your family and friends!!

 

Wednesday
Nov042015

ISSUE #119: Hunt cAN'T Build Base 2  11/3/15

"It looks as if our old friend Hugh Bris is back in town."  -- Gore Vidal

THE NOVEMBER 3 ELECTION RESULTS

The unofficial results are in, and after serving as a Pitkin County election judge for 12 hours today, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet.

For the most up to date election results and for all measures on the ballot throughout Pitkin County, click HERE

ASPEN 2A: BASE 2 GETS CLOBBERED

I'm actually surprised that it wasn't MUCH MUCH closer!  Base 2, the 37-room affordable lodge proposed for the corner of Monarch and Main, was handily defeated 1427-728 (66% - 34%).  This issue was far less about the proposed lodge and far more about shuttering development in Aspen.  Mark Hunt's Base 2 Lodge became a proxy for development sins committed by city councils past and present (think: Art Museum).  The opponents objected from the get-go to land use concessions granted to the developer for his plans to build a long-desired (by the community, or so the Aspen Area Community Plan has said for the past 40 years) affordable lodge.  And yes, there were several.  But now we get a new building, arguably a bit less dense than the proposed Base 2 lodge, that will likely house a national bank, a chain pharmacy or a mega-brand retail store at street level with offices or residential above.  

This campaign was yet another ugly chapter in Aspen's electoral politics.  The developer was vilified for not revealing who his investors are (as if it's anyone's business) and publicly accused of being dishonest and disingenuous. The fear campaign was mounted citing Hunt's numerous other properties in town and predictions of "variances gone wild" should Base 2 have been approved.  How quickly the Aspen electorate forgets that just last May the voters stripped council of its ability to grant future land use variances!!

One curious situation emerged amidst the campaign when Carl of Carl's Pharmacy was convinced to oppose the Base 2 lodge.  How he got this wrong is anyone's guess.  If a lodge were to be built across the street from Carl's, he would have had a captive audience of 37-74 people, inches from his business, 24/7/365.  We all know that Carl's sells EVERYTHING, so his shop would become the "bodega" for Base 2.  Beer, sundries, socks, snacks -- you name it.  If I had been Carl, I'd have been quickly on the other side of this one, and would have also looked into plans to replace the long-lost soda fountain and counter to serve his new neighbors!  Now Carl has to wonder -- who will be his across-the-street neighbor and will it be a competitor? 

But the most egregious part of this whole issue came from comments in numerous letters to the editor throughout election season.  There is widespread discontent here in the People's Republic of Aspen over the recent and growing success of our tourism seasons.  It seems the locals resent the visiting crowds and wish there were far fewer people who come to town.  Yes, the same people whose very livelihoods are pegged to a service-based tourism economy want to pull the drawbridge up!  These folks vehemently opposed a new lodge of any sort because they don't want any more people here.  (Just think, you probably subsidized the roofs over may of these same people's heads.)

As I have earlier stated, I now hope the concept of "affordable lodging" in Aspen can die.  This was our shot; after this vote, I can't imagine what other developer would ever deign to try it again.  Frankly, it would be foolish.

COLORADO PROP BB WINS BIG

This question was an attempt by the State of Colorado to de-Bruce the existing marijuana taxes collected by the government, ostensibly so that more funds can be spent on school construction, marijuana education and prevention programs and youth programs.    

The measure passed 3418-878 (80% - 20%).  Let's hope that money somehow finds its way to the schools!

PITKIN COUNTY 1A: A RESOUNDING YES

This question asked voters if the county should opt out of Senate Bill 152 which bans governments from offering internet services to the public.  Pitco does not want to offer broadband services itself, rather, the county seeks to invest in broadband infrastructure improvements for residents who live in rural, remote, rugged, low density areas.  

The measure passed 92% - 8%.

ASPEN 2B: A SQUEAKER

The Armory building at the northeast corner of Galena and Hopkins Streets is where City Hall is currently located.  Council has determined that it prefers to move all city offices under one (to-be-constructed) roof in a 52,000 sf new facility in Rio Grande Plaza rather than continue to house city offices a block away their current location, at other city-owned facilities throughout town, and some at a new (smaller than 52,000 sf) facility.  One alternative use for the Armory space would be a community center, for events, meetings, dances, gatherings.  This is an advisory vote on the matter.

At press time, since these are merely unofficial results -- city offices 1044 (51%), community use 1021 (49%) -- this one is simply too close to call.  

ASPEN 3A: A WIN FOR THE SCHOOLS

This property tax increase for the schools passed 2369 - 1180 (67% - 33%). The additional $1 million raised for the schools is just the beginning of the tin-cup rattling campaigns and tax increases to come.

I am looking forward to meeting with the Aspen Education Foundation to discuss better and more reliable long term funding options for our schools because the nickel and diming has got to stop! 

COLORADO MOUNTAIN JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT 4D:  YES

Similar to Pitkin County 1A above, Colorado Mountain College wanted to get out from under SB-152 too in order to have the authority to offer broadband service should it ever be needed for its campuses or the communities it serves.  

The measure passed 3421 - 472 (88% - 12%).

ASPEN VALLEY HOSPITAL DISTRICT 5A: BIG WIN

This is neither a new tax nor a tax increase.  Originally passed in 1995, this question is for the extension of the existing up-to-1.5 mills mill levy through 2020.  It has been re-authorized in 2000, 2005 and 2010 at the same rate. 

This measure passed resoundingly 2835 - 1147 (71% - 29%).

NOW THAT ELECTION SEASON IS OVER (FOR NOW)...

The Red Ant looks forward to opining on the political topics of the day, including upcoming topics:

  • The Library Expansion: what's going on over there and where did all the money come from??
  • The near and long term future for the Old Power House:  Library? Liquor? Litigation?
  • Aspen's Millennials:  Entitled whiners? Entrepreneurs? Employees? 
Wednesday
Nov042015

ISSUE #118: ANT Alert - Yet Another Election  10/12/15

"Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country and this world."   -- Sharon Salzberg

I KID YOU NOT - IT'S BACK TO THE POLLS

It's fall in Aspen and that can mean a lot of things: colorful foliage, dustings of snow on mountaintops, ski conditioning classes ... and yes, elections. We obviously can't have too many elections here!

THE DETAILS

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3.  This election is a statewide one, so everyone (not just city of Aspen residents) can and should vote!  

  • Your mail-in ballot will be sent to you on October 12
  • Are you registered?  Check your voter registration and mailing address at www.pitkinvotes.org 
  • Beginning October 20, you can drop your ballot off at the Pitkin County Clerk's office, 530 E. Main Street, 8:30a - 4:30p
  • There is a NEW voter service center at the Jewish Community Center, 435 W. Main Street 
  • Beginning October 26, early voting commences at the JCC, M-F 8:30a - 4:30p, Sat October 31 10a - 2p and Mon November 2, 8:30a - 4:30p
  • The LAST DAY your ballot can be sent to you is October 26
  • Once mailed back in, track your ballot HERE
  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 7a - 7p
  • Questions and concerns?  www.pitkinvotes.org or call the county clerk at 970-429-2713

PLEASE FORGIVE THE ASPEN MYOPIA

This November's ballot is a hodge-podge of state, county, municipal and district issues.  In the name of brevity, not to mention a severe case of election fatigue, I am weighing in on most, but not all, of the presented issues. For things like school board and CMC board elections, I will leave these to your good judgement. Furthermore, I am reticent to opine on issues that affect communities other than my own. Apologies to readers in Basalt, Carbondale and beyond. 

COLORADO PROP BB: VOTE YES

This question is an attempt by the State of Colorado to de-Bruce the existing marijuana taxes collected by the government, ostensibly so that more funds can be spent on school construction, marijuana education and prevention programs and youth programs.    

I have a few issues with this.  Most pertain to TABOR - the taxpayers bill of rights.  TABOR states that the government can only keep voter-approved tax revenues (above a determined baseline) equal to inflation plus growth (a factor of population).  I am fundamentally a fan of TABOR.

The specific issue at hand stems from the recent legalization of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.  2015 is already on track to nearly double the marijuana tax revenue that it collected in 2014.  For reasons of this argument, use $40 million collected in 2014 (it was actually a little more, but 40 is an easy number).  Call inflation 2% and growth 3% -- 5% of $40 million is $2 million.  Under TABOR, the state can legally keep $42 million of 2015's pot tax revenue.  But if/when the revenue doubles, as it is on track to do, what will happen to the additional $38 million collected that the state is not allowed to keep?  It must be returned.  To whom? The retailers!?!

When the state collects such sums (far more than TABOR allows), the inclination is to change the law and permanently "de-Bruce" the revenue stream.  I personally like the protections of TABOR and worry about item by item unraveling of these taxpayer rights.  But it raises an even greater question:  if not the government, do we really want ginormous refunds to the pot retailers??  Should they reap the windfall?  If government is the answer, if not TABOR, what is the control mechanism for proper and transparent stewardship of the funds?  In this case, it reads to me intentionally vague, likely because lawmakers don't know.  They're leaving it open. Ugh.

Many will say, "Hey, it's a sin tax.  Let the government keep it and use it where they see fit."  But we are talking HUGE dollars here in Colorado.  In my opinion, neither option is a particularly good choice.  This is one of those "least worst" scenarios.  As voters, we approved (or at least some of you did) the legalization of recreational marijuana sales because they told us the torrents of tax money would flood to the schools.  Since we've yet to see that, I remain skeptical.  But I suppose I'd rather see the excess money have a chance to get there.

PITKIN COUNTY 1A: VOTE YES

This question asks voters if the county should opt out of Senate Bill 152 which bans governments from offering internet services to the public.  Pitco does not want to offer broadband services itself, rather, the county seeks to invest in broadband infrastructure improvements for residents who live in rural, remote, rugged, low density areas.  Approval will enable the county to ensure needed infrastructure is in place through public-private partnerships.

ASPEN 2A: VOTE YES

Question 2A is THE hot button Aspen issue du jour.  It pertains specifically to the development of a 37-room lodge at the northwest corner of Main and Monarch Streets, where the Conoco gas station currently stands.  A brief history: On June 1, city council approved the lodge's development application that included zoning variances for parking, total square footage and setbacks in order to gain a long-desired "affordable lodge" in the downtown core.  A local group circulated a successful citizens petition to "unwind" council's approval of this application or send the issue to a public vote.  Well, here is the public vote.

It is never as simple as it sounds, however.  In this particular project's brief lifespan, council has been stripped of its future ability to grant variances to developers (in the May 2015 election) and anti-development sentiment has reached a fever pitch not seen since the late 80's when the historic hysterics were fighting the Ritz Carlton.  You'd think the apocalypse was upon us!

This ballot question has far greater implications.  Developer Mark Hunt has come forward with a plan (obviously appreciated by council) that meets a long-desired and stated community need: affordable lodging.  For at least the last 40 years, the community has been kvetching about "lost beds" and at least the perception of the loss of small, affordable lodges.  Now we have a guy who has stepped forward to answer the call.  He bought the valuable and well-located dirt.  He is willing to build an affordable lodge with small (under 200sf) rooms to meet the changing needs of the evolving Aspen demographic.  He very easily could build - within existing zoning - a nice commercial building for a bank or mega-brand with a penthouse on top, but he's willing to build a lodge.  As with all gives, there are gets.  That's what the opposition ceases to understand.  You want an affordable lodge in Aspen, well then, you're gonna have to give up a few things: some square footage, some setbacks, some housing mitigation.  It's called compromise.

I, for one, think it's a little disingenuous to offer "affordable" lodging in our otherwise "not affordable" town; it simply creates an expectation of affordability that we simply cannot meet.  But the community has long wanted this, so if it works for Hunt, I say let's give it a try.  The market will always determine what succeeds.  And furthermore, despite what you've heard, Base 2, as the lodge is called, is hardly a "big box;" it will not "ruin Main Street" nor "destroy Aspen's character."  It will merely provide 37 very small rooms right downtown, a mere block from the Jerome.  It could very well be the right solution for a long-lamented issue.

Now, should the community decide that these zoning "gives and gets" are too rich for its blood, ok. Mark Hunt will do just fine with his mixed use development opportunities for the property.  The affordable lodge will go away.  But then can we shut up about affordable lodging in Aspen once and for all???  (Do the opponents really think someone else is going to develop something like this??)  I see this as now or never.  Let's give it a go.

ASPEN 2B: VOTE "CITY OFFICES"

The Armory building at the northeast corner of Galena and Hopkins Streets is where City Hall is currently located.  Council has determined that it prefers to move all city offices under one (to-be-constructed) roof in a 52,000 sf new facility in Rio Grande Plaza rather than continue to house city offices a block away their current location and at other city-owned facilities throughout town.  One alternative use for the Armory space would be a community center, for events, meetings, dances, gatherings.  This is an advisory vote on the matter.

My beef is in no way with the idea of a community center.  Nor is it with the fine group of citizens whose desire to see the Armory return to its 1950s-era community use.  Their intentions are well and good.  Charming even.  I just can't stand the hubris of our local government.  It is the ultimate in hypocrisy to build a 52,000 sf edifice to bureaucracy in downtown Aspen when the municipality owns several buildings of varying sizes throughout town that the government is falling over itself to give away and/or to re-purpose for various (and dubious) "community uses."  (Think: Old Power House.)  

Of course shiny and new is preferable to used and re-purposed.  Of course paid-for-with-money-on-hand is preferable to asking for a bond (never mind why we have stashed away $40+ million taxpayer dollars for a new municipal castle).  Of course having everyone under one roof is preferable to spreading them among other city-owned properties. But is it prudent? Is it responsible? Is it necessary?

I say no.  A 52,000 sf municipal building is nearly 2 acres in size.  The city says it won't look that big because from Main Street because it will drop down in back several floors to Rio Grande Place.  But what about from that side? It will surely be a centerpiece of environmentalism, but will its stacked boxes function in terms of community engagement?  Surely there are numerous divisions and departments that have little or no public interface needs.  Why should they be in the center of town when other (city-owned) locations are available?  And for those functions that exist for public interface, then absolutely, keep them front and center.  My guess is that the proposed building is about 40% larger than it needs to be.

Furthermore, in the event that the Armory "reverts" to community use, are you aware that the (city-owned) Wheeler has already given early indication of its interest in managing the facility?  This begs numerous questions, not the least of which is why the city would be getting into the publicly subsidized event space business that will compete with other private enterprises.  And financially, we all know that the pot of gold that the Wheeler sits on from the (0.5%) RETT revenues is just funding looking for expenditures.  Could there be some financial cross-pollination that enables Wheeler RETT money to further subsidize the operations of and/or improvements to this proposed "community" venue??  A lot of questions, not a lot of answers.

In short, it comes down to this.  Do you want less net new development?  Well then, City Hall should absolutely stay where it is, use existing spaces already owned by the city, and expand at Galena Plaza only as much as it needs to.  If massive net new development makes you happy, then a 52,000 sf office space for our pals on the public payroll is right up your alley.  

ASPEN 3A: VOTE NO

This one is an emotional hot button.  It's a property tax increase for the schools.  According to school superintendent John Maloy, this property tax increase - the first for the schools since 2010 - will bring in almost $1 million a year "to preserve the current quality of education the community has stated it values and supports."  The problem is, this new $1 million a year, which will come from a mill levy over-ride of $2.99 per $100,000 of assessed value, will not come close to covering the projected shortfall, which is estimated to be $2.3 million next year.  We will still have a huge funding gap.  Much of this gap will be covered by an existing (circa 2011) Aspen 0.3% sales tax which kicks in $1.4-$1.8 million a year, but this tax expires in 2016.  (Read: look for a "renewal" of this tax in one year.)  Note:  the 2011 decision to add solely to Aspen's sales tax set a dangerous precedent.  Where was Snowmass Village up front?  Aspen stood front and center of the financial universe as usual -- what's the incentive for Snowmass Village to buck up now??  Just sayin'.

Clearly, the economic situation in the state of Colorado for education is dire.  This is not the fault of our local administrators, rather one stemming from funding decisions at the state level.  On one hand, you could argue, "Anything for the schools."  They are indeed a very important part of our community.  But on the other hand, while Snowmass Village (where over 20% of the district's students reside) dithers over how to contribute (they don't want to raise their sales tax any higher because it's already over 10%) and the Aspen Education Foundation raises $400K-$700K annually in charitable donations, can't we as a community do better?  I'd like to think so.

As school board member Sheila Wills has stated, "We need to find a local solution we can rely on."  Yes, Sheila, we do.  Here's one.  How about we re-allocate the RETT.  Yep, that 1.5% real estate transfer tax that goes (1%) to subsidized housing and (0.5%) to the Wheeler Opera House endowment can and should be promptly re-allocated.  The Aspen schools should benefit from this revenue.  This CAN be accomplished -- not easily -- but it CAN be done. Just look at the financial fortunes of the housing program and the Wheeler since the advent of the RETT. (FYI, in 2015, the RETT revenue forecast for housing is $8.4 million and for the Wheeler it's $4.5 million.)  It's time to select new beneficiaries.  As a community we can and should step up and make something big happen -- a real local solution that the schools CAN rely on.  But in order for this to happen, the piecemeal nickle and diming has got to stop.  

COLORADO MOUNTAIN JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT 4D: VOTE YES

Similar to Pitkin County 1A above, Colorado Mountain College wants to get out from under SB-152 too in order to have the authority to offer broadband service should it ever be needed for its campuses or the communities it serves.  

ASPEN VALLEY HOSPITAL DISTRICT 5A: VOTE YES

This is neither a new tax nor a tax increase.  Originally passed in 1995, this question is for the extension of the existing up-to-1.5 mills mill levy through 2020.  It has been re-authorized in 2000, 2005 and 2010 at the same rate. These monies are not for new construction but to maintain funding levels to cover the costs of new technologies, staff development and education, community health and well-being services, care for the indigent and maintaining low nurse-patient ratios.  Think of it as a community commitment for local control of healthcare in the upper valley.  Short of a single-payer healthcare system, there will always be costs like these that fall to us.  It's simply what we pay to have a good hospital in our community.

LOOK FOR YOUR BALLOT IN THE MAIL THIS WEEK!  AND VOTE!!

Tuesday
Oct062015

ISSUE #117: I'm JubilANT - Bert Beats Mick

"One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician's objective.  Election and power are."   -- Cal Thomas

BERT WINS

Yes, it's over.  The results are in.  Bert Myrin unleashed a can of old-fashioned whoop ass on Mick Ireland in yesterday's run-off election for the remaining council seat, 1305 - 684 (66% - 34%).  

This hometown shellacking comes on the heels of the entrenched political class showing how little they have. The angry, class warfare-inciting, anti-business, anti-development, "bring back the quiet years" mob used Bert Myrin to compose and coordinate their anti-development Referendum 1 (which passed in May), only to allow it to be co-opted by Mick as a revisionist history come-back campaign platform.  Once Bert and Mick were in the run-off for the last council seat, this cabal swiftly threw Myrin under the bus and backed Mick with everything they had. Thankfully, the community has a long memory, and was not swayed by their shameless backing of Aspen's former mayor.

Many thanks, Red Ant readers, for voting.  When just 2000 people show up at the polls, your votes make a HUGE difference!!

HOW BERT WON

Bert overcame the lack of support from both local papers, who preferred Mick's "experience" to Myrin's "new voice."  Interestingly, Bert had zero support from the council table either.  Mayor Skadron, Ann Mullins, Art Daily and yes, even Adam Frisch, vociferously endorsed Mick in the run-off.  Bert, a long-time community activist and P&Z commission member, won over the electorate with a sincere message that echoes the outcome of Referendum 1.  The community has clearly lost confidence in council and its decisions regarding development and, as the author of the new law that strips council of its ability to grant variances, Bert is now well positioned to implement the new rules and begin healing the divide that led to such a draconian change to our city charter.  Vowing to represent the community's small town character and values amidst the business interests of the resort, Bert clearly struck a chord.  I am not in agreement with Myrin's us/them characterization of the community and the resort -- I feel strongly that one is nothing without the other -- but am hopeful that Bert's proven ability to work across the proverbial aisle will serve the community well as we face the challenges inherent in applying Ref 1.  

Bert won because he is a gentleman.  He was undaunted when abandoned by the old guard, his erstwhile supporters in the Mick Machine.  He reached out to all corners of the community.  He has a record of always being prepared and he respects the process of good governance.  He communicates professionally.  Reach out and congratulate him.  It's the dawn of a new day.  Bert@Myrin.com

WHY MICK LOST

Mick's shameless attempt at a council comeback was shown all the respect it deserved, which is far more than what he showed the electorate over his many years as county commissioner and mayor.  Time's up.  This was Mick's first loss as a candidate at the polls.  He tried to re-write history.  It didn't work.  The community did not fall for his 180-degree turn when he strongly backed Referendum 1.  He was, after all, the mayor when the most egregious variances in Aspen's history were granted.  Voters were also confused by Mick's criticism of city management and its lack of controls, because as mayor, he directed the granting of Steve Barwick's $170K/year contract and never followed up with annual reviews or a modicum of council oversight.  This led directly to Parking-Gate, among other Barwick financial follies.

The Red Ant was simply 4 years ahead of my time.  The community is indeed Sick of Mick.  (Many thanks to those who have donated to keep the websitewww.SickofMick.com up on the internet.  I knew it would come in handy again someday.)

WHAT WE CAN EXPECT

Sitting council members would be well served to reflect on the outcome of this election.  It could easily be interpreted as the public's approval of city council in general.  The voters stripped council of a major responsibility in May, then showed all 4 members exactly what they thought of their unanimous endorsement of Mick's return. 

Bert will bring good government processes to the council table.  This will help amidst Skadron's frequent confusion.  He has also vowed to live up to his reputation as a patient listener.  I am optimistic.

In our little world, the concept of "mandate" is often brought up after elections in attempts to "elevate" certain council members above others based upon votes earned at the polls.  Let's all keep in mind that Bert just handed it to Mick in a more decisive margin than any of us could have hoped for.  

Welcome, Bert.  You have our support.  Let's get to work!

Tuesday
Jun022015

ISSUE #116: Render Mick IrrelevANT

"An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for the blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned in it
."   -- George Bernard Shaw
 

WE'VE GOT OURSELVES A RUN-OFF ON JUNE 2

Bert Myrin was just 10 votes short of winning a council seat outright in the May 5 election, finishing in second place behind Adam Frisch with 994 votes.  He was notably 181 votes ahead of Mick Ireland.  The two now face off in a run-off where the winner takes all and will serve on council for the next 4 years.

Now it's our turn. There is no good reason to allow Mick another stint in elected office in Aspen.  He has served tirelessly as a county commissioner (three 4-year terms) and as mayor of Aspen (three 2-year terms).  It's simply time for a fresh voice.  Besides, is it really possible for someone who has been mayor for 6 years to resist the urge to run the show!?!  Please take 2 minutes to vote, vote for Bert Myrin and do it today!!

The run-off will be Tuesday, June 2. This too will be a mail-in ballot election; ballots were mailed out on May 15.  Look for yours.  Early voting begins on May 18 at City Hall.  Don't procrastinate!!  If you know you will be out of town during the election season, please complete the absentee ballot request form HERE.  The post office will not forward ballots!  Be sure to check the box indicating that you need a RUN-OFF ballot.  Questions?  Please call the city clerk at 970-429-2685.

 

BERT MYRIN FOR COUNCIL: TOP 10 REASONS TO VOTE FOR HIM

10. Bert listens to others' opinions

9.  Bert considers how his decisions affect others

8.  Bert gets things done

7.  Bert is approachable

6.  Bert respects speaking and meeting time limits

5.  Bert takes disagreements in stride

4.  Bert is friendly to citizens of all political viewpoints

3.  Bert is smart

2.  Bert does his homework

 

And the number one reason to vote for Bert Myrin:

1.  Bert's will be a fresh, new voice on council

 

IN ADDITION

On a personal note, I have worked with Bert (specifically on defeating the Hydro Plant) and, while our politics are not always in line, I found this unlikely collaboration to be an efficient, strategic and goal-oriented experience.  Not to mention, successful.  I learned A LOT from Bert and will be forever grateful for his guidance with that process.  For those of you who opposed the Hydro Plant, that's yet another reason to support his candidacy!

We have just elected two incumbents.  It's time for a new voice on council -- Bert's.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

Whether you want Bert to win or Mick to lose, your endorsement of Bert could really help A LOT.  Many people I have contacted have said they will vote for Bert and additionally urge their friends to do so.  This is good, but for Bert to win and Mick to lose, we're going to have to do even more than that.  It will require pressing ALL the mechanical levers of the campaign.  In Aspen elections, being able to show A LOT of endorsements is one important lever.  Please consider endorsing Bert, which means he would include your name in his ads.  (Yes, I'm on his list.)  You can do so by replying to this email and I will forward it to Bert.

 

800 VOTED FOR MICK IN MAY: YOUR VOTE FOR BERT COUNTS BIG!

For those who cannot take a little humor, this isn't for you... Mick has long been the political nemesis of The Red Ant, therefore, I won't throw any softballs.  I don't want him re-elected to anything.  No way, no how.

Here is an anonymously submitted riff on the "Top 10 Reasons to Vote for Bert" (above):

 

10.  Bert is NOT an insufferable bore

 9.  Bert is NOT narcissistic

 8.  Bert is NOT the only person in the room with a worthwhile opinion

 7.  Bert wears normal clothes and glasses to business meetings

 6.  Bert DOESN'T suck the oxygen out of all discussions

 5. Bert DOESN'T call people bad names just for disagreeing with him

 4.  Bert DOESN'T weave lectures on Citizens United and Climate Change into zoning discussions

3.  Bert DOESN'T constantly remind everyone he went to law school

2.  Bert DOESN'T consistently exceed his allotted speaking time

 

And the number one reason to vote for Bert Myrin:

1.  Bert DOESN'T troll the Saturday Market in spandex bike clothes reminding chicks "I'm the Mayor."

 

Furthermore, it's time to send Mick a message once and for all.  We're SICK OF MICK.  I am. You are. Aspen is.  Check out the website if you need a refresher as to why!  www.SickofMick.com

Tuesday
Jun022015

ISSUE #115: ANT Alert - The Empire Doesn't Strike Back

"Winning the election is a good-news, bad-news kind of thing.  Okay, now you're the mayor.  The bad news is now you're the mayor." -- Clint Eastwood

THE (UNOFFICIAL) RESULTS ARE IN

Mayor:  Skadron (incumbent) beats Torre 58% - 42%

Council:  Adam Frisch wins outright with 1207 votes and avoids a run-off.

Bert Myrin (990) and Mick Ireland (881) will likely* face off on June 2 for the second seat.

Referendum 1:  The controversial charter amendment prevailed 53% - 47%

 

RUN-OFF ELECTION DETAILS

*A run-off is likely, but not certain.  There are 23 outstanding ballots that must be verified today before being counted.  If Myrin gets 12 more votes, I am told that he too will clear the threshold of 45% + 1 to win the second council seat outright.  

If necessary, the run-off election will be Tuesday, June 2.  Ballots will be mailed out on May 11 with early voting beginning on May 18 at City Hall.  If you know you are going to be out of town on June 2, please complete the absentee form HERE.  Check the box indicating that you need a RUN-OFF ballot.  Questions?  Please call the city clerk at 970-429-2685.

 

SUMMARY

Yay, us!  The bullet voting strategy worked!  By electing Adam Frisch in the first round, we successfully preserved one sane vote on council.  Furthermore, I am personally thrilled that I'm clearly not alone in being Sick of Mick -- the municipal election of 2015 could very well go down in history for handing the old dragon his first electoral defeat!

As for Referendum 1, I think the community will live to regret this change to our charter.  It's bad legislation designed to cripple future councils.  And ironically, the incumbents, Skadron and Frisch, who vehemently opposed the measure, were handily re-elected.  Meanwhile, the measure's authors, anti-development stalwarts Myrin and Ireland, now fight for their (own) political survival.   

Much more to follow.  Just wanted you to know the (unofficial) outcome from last night.


SPECIAL THANKS

This election was city clerk Linda Manning's first in her new role.  To complicate matters, it was the city's first all mail-in ballot election.  I served as an election judge throughout the process and want to assure the community that we are in EXCELLENT hands with Linda.  She ran a meticulous election. Thank you, Linda.