Archived Ants

ISSUE #126: Gorsuch Haus - I'm EnchANTed  7/1/2016

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  

-- George Orwell

What would summer be in Aspen without a political cause celeb? The summer of 2016 has locals, second-homeowners, conservationists, skiers and our beloved political elites all fired up about Gorsuch Haus, a proposed hotel development at the top of South Aspen Street.  This is an opinion newsletter, obviously, and my opinion is that the impending decisions by Aspen's planning and zoning board and later by council regarding the approval of the Gorsuch Haus project have critical and far-reaching implications for the future of skiing in Aspen.  Yep, I think the decisions on this one are THAT big. 

I've been horrified to read in the papers so many misguided and misinformed letters to the editor in opposition to this critical project that I fired up the computer and picked up the phone during my vacation and learned the facts.  I suggest you learn them too, and then make up your own mind on whether or not you favor the project.  There's a lot of garbage out there.  These 10 "myths" are making the rounds in the lead-up to Gorsuch Haus' day before P&Z on July 5; I will debunk each one:

Myth #1:  Gorsuch Haus is so enormous and over-the-top, it is a big box that will make the 1A base area look like Vail

Gorsuch Haus is a moderate-sized hotel, proposed for the top of South Aspen Street.  The plans for a 68,000 sf structure that will feature 60 hotel rooms, 7 rental condos and 6 owned condos -- a total of 81 "keys" -- is oriented north-south, from about 100' below the current Lift 1A terminus to a point about one quarter of the way up the Norway ski run.  Unlike a "big box" such as The Residences at Little Nell, Gorsuch Haus will "stepped" into the mountainside in two-, three- and four-story levels, never higher than 49'.  Parking is underground.  At the top of the property is a public ski-in/ski-out slope side bar and restaurant. Here's what it will look like:

As a data point, and for comparison, Aspen's only ski-in/ski-out hotel is The Little Nell, at the north easternmost corner of Ajax at the base of Little Nell.  The 65,000 sf hotel has 92 rooms and suites.  Another size comparison - The Hotel Jerome is 85,000 sf and offers 93 rooms.

Myth #2:  Gorsuch Haus will cut off public access to the Lift 1A side of Ajax

The hotel's entrance features a public drop-off area, and the public plaza on the east side features guest services amenities (ticket offices, etc), not to mention the long-awaited replacement for Lift 1A.  (This could be a high-speed quad or gondola - that's up to SkiCo.)  The slope-side, public ski-in/ski-out bar and restaurant will offer skiers another choice for mountainside dining and entertainment, drawing people to this otherwise amenity-free side of the hill.  Here's a look at the approach:

The Red Ant says, this is GREAT.  I regularly ski 1A and what's commonly referred to as "Aspen's 5th mountain" on the west side of Ajax.  A redeveloped base area that features a bar and restaurant (not to mention all the other amenities - retail, restrooms, etc) AND the new lift, would be a fabulous and long-awaited addition to and an enormous improvement over the bleak offerings today.  I love a moderate hotel on this site - it will greatly ENHANCE the sleepy west side and make the area more compelling, relevant and accessible to locals and visitors alike than ever before.

Myth #3:  With the One Aspen townhomes and Lift One Lodge already being built on South Aspen Street, that's enough lodging and development for that side of town

One Aspen is a 77,000 sf complex of 14 privately-owned luxury townhomes and 15 subsidized housing units located on the west side of South Aspen Street, from Juan Street to just below the Shadow Mountain condos.  Lift One Lodge is a 76,000 sf (22 units, 84 keys) timeshare lodge and 5 free market units across from One Aspen on the east side of South Aspen Street.  Lift One Lodge additionally offers 50 underground public parking spaces to make up for the removal of on-street public parking in the area.

These two projects are fabulous additions to the beleaguered neighborhood, long in need of revitalization, even before the 2008 downturn that left the area in a decade-long state of neglect.  But neither has notable public amenities, save for the public parking spaces.  And that's not just my opinion.  SkiCo's decision whether to replace the ancient Lift 1A is contingent on new development in the area that provides public and skier amenities that justify such an investment.  There is zero indication that these two developments check the box for SkiCo.  Besides, Aspen's community development staff specifically stated that a base area redevelopment that at this critical portal to the ski area MUST be accessible to us - the locals, not closed off by development so as to benefit only the few who have properties there.

Myth #4:  SkiCo is holding the community hostage; they can afford to replace 1A without Gorsuch Haus

Personally, I'm sick and tired of the "SkiCo owes us" mentality. 2-3% of Aspen skiers use the current Lift 1A.  As such, SkiCo has no economic motivation to spend money on a replacement when so few skiers use it.  This is not a matter of what SkiCo and the Crown family can or will afford.  It's an investment decision.  And yes, they are exerting some leverage.  They can.  An improved and expanded base area with convenient public access and appealing amenities will enable and encourage more skier traffic and greater use of a new lift.  THAT's when an investment would make sense.

A hotel and base area redevelopment such as that proposed by Gorsuch Haus offers what SkiCo is looking for in terms of expanded skier traffic and public amenities on the west side of the mountain.  Gorsuch Haus additionally offers ME, a daily skier, amenities that I value and have been waiting years for, and that includes the new lift.

Myth #5:  Gorsuch Haus is yet another example of greedy developers looking to line their pockets at the expense of the community

The developer, Norway Island Partners, is a team of well-respected, long-term locals:

Jeff Gorsuch.  Skiing runs deep in the Gorsuch family: his father won the Roch Cup Downhill at Aspen and his mother made the podium in the 1950s.  Jeff skied on the Europa Cup circuit, and is active on numerous local boards:  AVSC, Aspen Education Foundation and the Aspen Community School.  Today, Jeff manages his family's eponymous retail operation and is raising his family in Aspen.

Early on, Bryan Peterson raced and trained in Aspen, and later returned to be the head coach of AVSC.  He currently coaches the US Adaptive Ski Team and is also raising his young family here. 

Jim DeFrancia is a 30-year resident of Aspen with ties to the community dating to 1883 when his great-grandfather arrived in town. DeFrancia is spearheading the project for Lowe Enterprises, a hotel development and management company with a 45-year history in Aspen.  The Gant was Lowe's original project; other local properties include Ute Place, W-J Ranch and 8 additional properties in Snowmass Village, not to mention numerous hotel properties throughout the country.

These are our friends, our neighbors.  They are devoted Aspen citizens whose commitments to our community run deep.  Drop the talk about them manipulating the process for their own benefit.  This is not a cut-and-run outfit.  Not by a long shot.

The Red Ant knows, trusts and respects this team.  From the get go, the entire project has been predicated on community access and inclusion.  They request no variances from their proposed zoning.  All plans are within what is permitted by code, parking is underground, and subsidized housing will be both on-site and elsewhere in Aspen.  Gorsuch Haus will not burden the community in any way.  It's exactly what we need, where we need it.  And this is the team to get it done.  It's the right project in the right place with the right team at the right time.

Myth #6:  FIS officially granted Aspen the 2017 World Cup Finals so we don't need a new base area and replacement of Lift 1A

Thankfully, FIS did indeed recently allow Aspen to remain on the schedule as host of the 2017 World Cup finals.  But it was a close call.  Since 2014 when Aspen was awarded the prestigious event, that status was tenuous.  FIS made it abundantly clear that the base area where the race course ends looked more like a 1940 sheep pasture than a world class international resort worthy of hosting the world's biggest week of ski racing.  They also demanded a replacement for Lift 1A.  While neither situation will be remedied in time for the 2017 program, FIS was apparently sufficiently impressed by Aspen's progress toward their desired upgrades for the area.  The races in 2017 stay, and Aspen narrowly dodges an internationally embarrassing rebuke. Phew!  But future consideration for World Cup events remains tied to the redevelopment of the ski area base and replacement of 1A.  Aspen is off the rotation until these occur.

Are you kidding?  We DO need a revitalized second base area here.  We always have.  This is not about ski racing per se, but never, ever forget the role of ski racing in Aspen's history.  If not a stated one, it should be, but ski racing (and Walter Paepcke) put us on the map.  It IS critical that we maintain our skiing reputation on the international stage.  

Myth #7:  Gorsuch Haus infringes on historic view planes and mars the views of Aspen Mountain

We know that the building will not exceed 49 at any point'.  As far as how high up the hill Gorsuch Haus lies, it's important to compare it to other slope-side development that currently exists at high points along the ski area boundary.  (The SkiCo trail maps are cartoon illustrations and do not accurately convey the actual "how high up" locations.)   The 700 building of the Aspen Alps and two large private residences above that on the far eastern side of Ajax along Little Nell, as well as the private residences at the top of South Mill Street properties are higher up the mountain than Gorsuch Haus, and none provide ANY public amenities, not to mention a slope-side public bar, restaurant and patio, and ensure a vital lift replacement and upgrade.  (See the city's Green Line map HERE.)

The Land Use Code (section 26.435.050) requires the protection of historic view planes of the mountain from various points in town.  The objective is to "protect mountain views from obstruction, strengthen the environment and aesthetic character of the city, maintain property values, and enhance the city's tourist industry by maintaining Aspen's heritage as a mountain community."  P&Z will surely use their compasses to determine the exact impacts here.  But, just because the project will be uphill of neighboring properties on South Aspen Street,this does not implicitly mean that it infringes on or violates protected view planes!

Myth #8:  Gorsuch Haus will be built so far up the hill that it will cut off access to 1A for skiers of Norway trail

No, it won't!  Don't let it sound complicated.  It's not.  It will be a natural transition back to 1A, not at all unlike access to the Ajax Express when skiing down Hanging Tree. 

First, let's talk about Norway.  Looking up South Aspen Street, see those boulders on the steep face to the right?  That's Norway. The wooded area between Norway trail and the bottom of 1A is called Norway Island.  Norway Island is directly above the Gorsuch Haus site.  For Norway trail skiers who don't stop for a beer on the Gorsuch Haus patio, a "skier's right" above the property brings skiers to the run-out to the 1A base.  The planned east side loading area for the 1A replacement lift will require skiers to cross beneath the lift itself, unlike the current path to 1A (which loads on the west side and is accessed in a straight line) because there is no west-side access to the lift. 

Myth #9The land proposed for the Gorsuch Haus project is "conservation land," currently designated to be vacant and protected forever

The four distinct parcels that comprise the Gorsuch Haus property are currently zoned "Conservation" (C).  The Conservation zoning has effectively served as a "placeholder" for potential future use as a ski area base, just as the Conservation zoning of parcel where The Little Nell and Gondola Plaza (including the gondola) stand served to accommodate that development until it came to fruition.  (The Little Nell et al were constructed before SKI zoning even existed, on land zoned Conservation.)  For Gorsuch Haus to move forward, the land will have to be re-zoned to SKI.  Such a change (from Conservation to SKI) is not unprecedented. 

According to Aspen's Land Use Code, the purpose of the (C) zone district is "to provide areas of low density development to enhance public recreation, conserve natural resources, encourage the production of crops and animals, and to contain urban development."  Permitted uses include residential dwellings, stables, cemetery, railroad and temporary special events.  Conditional uses include sewage disposal and ski lifts and other ski facilities. 

The land use code additionally has a zoning category called "Ski Area Base" (SKI).  This relatively new category is designed specifically for property at the base of ski areas.  The purpose of the SKI zone district is to provide areas "which allow for a mixture of uses related to ski area uses and operations," including lodge/hotel.

The land in question for Gorsuch Haus, under contract to the developer, is currently owned by SkiCo, which has long desired a second base area on this site. 

The land use code's full description of what "Conservation" zoning allows clearly illustrates that, despite the perception of endangered species, protected habitats and visions of Yellowstone National Park that the word "conservation" conjures, in no way does this zoning district require maintenance as pristine wilderness where the deer and the antelope play.  We are NOT talking National Geographic, Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy here!  More like recreational uses such as country club and golf course, dairy, guest ranches and the aforementioned sewage disposal area.

In short, Gorsuch Haus is NOT asking that protected "conservation land" be compromised to meet their purposes.  Don't fall for that!  This has nothing to do with open space and untouched wilderness.  The project is proposed for land that is currently zoned "Conservation" including the myriad approved uses above, and they are asking for a change to "SKI" zoning, the technically appropriate zoning district for a second ski area base and access portal to the mountain. 

Myth #10:  Gorsuch Haus will forever kill the possibility of lift service as far down as Dean Street

The plans for the replacement of 1A at Gorsuch Haus have the lift located in essentially the same location as it exists today.  This begs the obvious question -- Why there, and not lower on the hill near Dean Street, where Aspen's original (1947) lift was located?  (Since 1976, skiers accessing 1A from town either walk up or use on-street parking that is currently being eliminated.)  Earlier failed redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood entertained a "platter pull" surface lift concept that would have made it easy for skiers in town to quickly and easily access 1A.  However, at this juncture, there are no plans for lift service of any kind below 1A. 

The Gorsuch Haus parcel DOES NOT include land below 1A.  How that land is utilized is in the hands of Lift One Lodge.  The narrow corridor enabling skiers to ski further down the hill is likely too narrow for both a surface lift and downhill skiing.  The developers of Gorsuch Haus recently made a notable adjustment to their design that enables a future extension of 1A down the mountain should conditions change.  In the meantime, the current proposal is for a public transit loop shuttle from the hotel's turnaround to Rubey Park.

I like this project. A lot. It's what we've needed for a long, long time.  In the wonderful days of the Holland House and Skier's Chalet, we got a taste of it.  But for years, this space has been left in limbo.  Ugly limbo.  We had a chance several years ago, but the planets were not correctly aligned and it didn't pan out.  Fingers can be pointed in many directions.  But the long and short is, something is going to happen.  The question is what.  Will it be a development that meets SkiCo's desires and warrants a Lift 1A upgrade?  Or will it be something that fits in existing zoning -- some more private residences like those at the top of Mill Street?  More residential and no public amenities all but ensure that the concept of a second public portal to the mountain is gone forever.

The west side of Aspen is where it all began with the famous "boat tow" lift in 1936.  This is the historic portal to skiing in Aspen.  Looking to the future, we have a rare second chance to get this right.  Can we really wait for a third?  And that is in no way to imply that we should approve something that isn't fantastic.  In my opinion, Gorsuch Haus IS fantastic.  I strongly believe it is a community obligation to honor our past with a vision for the future that links our ski racing history to our world class destination ski area infrastructure.

This is a critical "legacy" issue.  Once this parcel is developed (and it will be), we won't get a re-do here.  Earlier in the piece, I mentioned that the Little Nell is the only ski-in/ski-out hotel in Aspen.  Think about it.  That's crazy.  If we are going to be the best and continue to compete with the best, we must offer the best.  It will take a community-wide commitment to improve and upgrade our offerings.  Lift 1A and the west side of Ajax from Ruthie's on down has fabulous skiing that very few ever enjoy.  (Most skiers just cut across Summer Road and go back to the gondola.)  

A revitalized 1A and second portal to Aspen Mountain is exactly what we need.  The FIS scare of having the World Cup finals revoked was real.  And let us not forget our history as a ski racing mecca.  Nor our role in the story of American skiing.

It's been said of the hotel, "Gorsuch Haus is a project that connects the heart of the community with the story of the mountain."  I'm sentimental.  I like that.  And it's true.  It was mining that made this town, but skiing that sustained it.  Skiing is this community's most important societal and economic driving force, and history's most important contribution to today's Aspen.  Let's not forget what got us here.

Gorsuch Haus principals will be meeting (in public) with P&Z on July 5.  It will go something like this:  city staff presentation with Q&A / Gorsuch Haus presentation with Q&A / Public Comment / Opportunity for Gorsuch Haus to address comments / Planning & Zoning board (public) discussion / Decision.  A lot for one night, for sure.  Wise money says this will use up all the time on July 5 and continue on July 19.  From there, P&Z's decision goes to Council.

To date, Gorsuch Haus has widespread community support. They have held multiple well-attended public events and made changes to their plans according to feedback gleaned.  Recent rumblings in opposition have been just that, rumblings. 

I hope you will look seriously at the project with the facts in mind, and weigh the long term repercussions of the impending decisions facing P&Z and council related to the zoning change that will enable or prevent Gorsuch Haus from becoming a reality.  Whatever you decide, please focus on the facts.  And share them with your friends.

Be informed!!!

Visit the Gorsuch Haus website to learn more:

Attend the P&Z meeting(s):  July 5 (and July 19)

Write to council:




ISSUE #125: cANTeen Closed - No Party at the OPH  6/8/2016

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage."  

-- H.L. Mencken



A quick update to inform you that last night, city council made the right decision.  Those words are rarely written in The Red Ant!!


With their 4-0 consensus decision to reject the terms of the proposed lease from the Aspen Power Plant (APP) for tenancy at the Old Power House (OPH), rational minds predominantly prevailed.


Mayor Steve Skadron positioned himself as the peacemaker, saying that the project had simply become "too divisive" for the town, and it was his job to end the divisiveness.  Good call, Steve! Wisely, he also included the suggestion that the OPH now be considered for temporary city office space.


Ann Mullins, on the other hand, blamed the APP's demise on "bitter losers" and "rules that changed through no fault of the applicant."  She reinvented history by saying that the original process had nothing to do with profit or non-profit.  The RFQ may not have specified profit motives, but NEVER in question was the underlying zoning of the OPH.  It's right there in black and white for all to see.  "I am not sure that any of the applicants would qualify under the new rules," she added.  There are no new rules, Ann.  And the existing rules are very, very clear.  In fact, EACH ANY EVERY ONE of the other applicants would qualify!  (She is up for re-election in 2017 BTW.)


Art Daily softened his pro-APP stance.  Recognizing the divisiveness created by council's 2015 decision and the ensuing negotiations, he relented and voted against APP.


Adam Frisch, never a fan of the APP at the OPH, wisely suggested a work session to explore all options for future use of the building, effectively reviving the discussion about the Galena Plaza / Taj Mahal City Hall space needs and plans. Adam, thank you for recognizing the obvious link between the two issues and thinking strategically about logical next steps!


The outcome is the right one.  Yet it is still amazing how emotionally intertwined council had become with this issue.  Even with their final decision, they failed to recognize the accountability issues surrounding their own process and their own failure to know and recognize the land use code.  For over a year, they were completely manipulated by the APP.  Without the neighborhood opposition that grew to include aggrieved non-profits and a diverse group of citizens who resented the special treatment granted the APP by city hall, council would likely have gone forward with their selection of the APP at the OPH, irrespective of the law.


This is a great example of citizen activism.  Yes, you CAN beat city hall.  It's never easy, and it can be a mind-numbingly frustrating process, but to sit by and do nothing is never the answer when the issues are this important.  Many thanks to all who took time to learn the facts, kept the debate alive, wrote to the papers and showed up at critical meetings.  You made the difference!  Your opinions DO matter and are exactly why we can celebrate this decision today.


HERE is the article on last night's meeting from the Aspen Times.




In Issue #124, I understated two facts:


 - APP did not propose to pay $10/SF for the upstairs of the OPH; they wished to pay $10/YEAR 


 - I stated that the city would have to spend $18K/month to rent 7200 SF of comparable space to temporarily house city offices during the 5 year construction of the Taj Mahal.  Make that $18,500 a WEEK!!  That would be $4.8 million over a 5 year period!  


As bad as my stated figures were, the real numbers were FAR worse!


I regret the errors.





ISSUE #124: DefiANT - Last Stand at the Old Power House  6/7/2016

"If you're going to make a desperate, hopeless act of defiance you should make it a good one." 

-- Ann Leckie


*** Apologies in advance for the technical layout of this issue.  I'm on the road and having challenges with a borrowed computer that is not cooperating!  ***

The issue of the day is whether Aspen's city council will allow a selected but non-compliant tenant to sign a lease for the city-owned Old Power House, formerly home to the Aspen Art Museum, on terms dictated by and wildly favorable to said tenant.

Formerly the city's power plant, the Old Power House (as it is known today) was long the home of the Aspen Art Museum until 2014 when the Museum moved to its new in-town digs.

In the fall of 2014, the city appointed a "citizens committee" to process and vet proposals from various local non-profits interested in leasing the 7200 sf space.  Finalists included the Aspen Science Center, the Red Brick Performing Arts Center, Grassroots TV and a John Denver museum. 

Ignoring the recommendations of the citizens committee, council booted the John Denver museum concept and added in Paul Kienast's Gathering Place and the proudly for-profit collaboration called "Aspen Power Plant" (APP), which promised to utilize the building with a brewery and biergarten, tv station, shared workspace and special event company.  In a March 2015 4-1 vote, council selected the APP for tenancy of the OPH.  HERE is the link to the APP's winning proposal.  In short, if you don't wish to read it, here are some telling tidbits:

"A full-service food and beverage operator committed to local craft and powering creative thought for workers, recreators  and revelers morning noon and night."

"A food and beverage operator with a showpiece brewing system, commercial kitchen and old world inspired biergarten"

The APP "will host countless community gatherings throughout the year" in "the atmosphere of a lively public house"

Operators will work to ensure that the "APP has a full calendar, year-round" that will be "an attraction for locals and tourists, morning noon and night."

You get the idea.  The OPH has been slated to become a party barn.

Meanwhile, the OPH was promised as temporary space to the Pitkin County Library in 2015 for use amidst its redevelopment.  The library expects to vacate this month and the OPH will soon be vacant.

Lease negotiations have been held for one year in secret between city officials and APP principals.  A draft lease was released last Friday by the city attorney and APP.  Read the preposterous document HERE.

A public work session will be held TODAY, June 7, at 6p in council chambers.  Read this issue and decide whether council ought to hear your opinion.  Believe me, they know mine!

I will spare you the legalese and minute detail, but in short, the Aspen land use code specifically states that the purpose of Public (PUB) zoning is "to provide for the development of governmental, quasi-governmental and non-profit facilities for cultural, educational, civic and other non-profit uses."  Aspen's land use code specifically defines a non-profit as "an entity which has received a favorable determination letter from the US Internal Revenue Service regarding their tax-exempt status."  In order to qualify as a tax exempt under 501(c)3, meaning it would pay no tax on its income, an organization must be dedicated to one or more of the following purposes: charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. Yes, the OPH is zoned Public.  And no, none of those purposes involves the sale of beer.

And, according to the IRS, for an organization to be a 501(c)3, it must be "organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)3 and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual.  Organizations described in 501(c)3 are commonly referred to as charitable organizations."  APP is not a 501(c)3, nor are any of its member companies.

In the absence of a letter from the IRS confirming an entity's 501(c)3 status, council would have to pass an Ordinance for "non-conforming use" to enable a tenant such as the APP to sign a lease for the OPH.   

The Aspen City Charter enables citizens to overturn a council-approved Ordinance by way of a Referendum, which entails a petition and signature collecting (not difficult), and often results in a public vote to determine the will of the populace.  (The Hydro Plant and Base 2 Lodge were both sent to the voters via the Referendum process where both were rejected.)

Finally, after resisting for an entire year, the principals of the APP actually sat down to meet with neighbors of the Old Power House in early May, despite meeting with city council and city officials numerous times in secretive executive sessions to formulate potential lease terms over the course of the past year.  Executive sessions, designed for council to meet behind closed doors to discuss legal settlements and other things like property acquisitions of a competitive nature, were questionably held by council because lease terms for a city-owned property are well outside of competitive lanes.  And what was covered in these questionable sessions was far more than simply lease negotiations, but what was actually discussed will now never see the light of day.  Among other things, it appears that city staff discussed neighborhood opposition to their plans with the APP principals, although anything specific along these lines would only have been conjecture as the neighborhood (and the public at large) knew and still knows very little about the details of the proposed operation, not to mention its sketchy and very debatable financials.  

The APP expected to hit the neighbors with a few points (that they promoted as concessions) pertaining to parking, noise and the number of large special events to be held on the site, and were flabbergasted when the neighbors wanted merely to hear the detailed specifics of what it was they wanted to do at the OPH, as a starting point.  How dare we?!  In their naive exuberance over the 2015 selection, and despite direction from the city to meet with neighbors to establish and define terms that all could accept in a lease, the APP had effectively written the neighbors off.    

Specifics at the May meeting were few and far between, although it was clear that the APP did not realize that their quickie registration (see below) as a "non-profit association" so that they could effectively skirt the zoning rules would not pass the smell test.  When they stated that they were indeed four for-profit entities and none was a 501(c)3, it became obvious that the APP technically did not qualify for the space.  And, let's face it, the likelihood of getting such status from the IRS would be a long shot on the best day.   Sources close to The Red Ant confirm that in a subsequent executive session with council on May 23, the APP was summarily informed by city officials that their non-profit hoax would not fly and they would have to apply with the city for a PD overlay (non-conforming use in the public zone) as a full for-profit enterprise.  Obtaining a PD overlay would require the same process (and have the same effect) as a full rezoning.

One interesting and telling tidbit at the neighborhood meeting (that featured a quick appearance by city attorney Jim True/False) was the city's admission that "the city is not good at enforcement" when asked who would be enforcing the terms of a lease at the OPH.  How reassuring!?!

It increasingly appears that city staff has been a co-conspirator in an effort to expedite the APP's tenancy at the OPH, providing legal "work arounds" to inherent zoning challenges faced by the group.  For example, long thought to be located in a residential (R-30) zone, the OPH turns out to have been re-zoned Public in 1988.  In the process leading up to this discovery by the city earlier this year, our pal, aptly named assistant city manager Barry Crook all but promised the APP that the city would simply change the zoning to Public in order to accommodate their plans, stating that it was his belief that the property's zoning "should have been public all along."  This, with the stroke of a pen.  So much for public process.  The point later became moot, and this zoning issue (no longer residential but public) was celebrated by the APP as a hurdle overcome.  But they forgot to read the fine print of what Public zoning in the Aspen land use code requires.  When informed by the city that the occupying entity of a publicly zoned building would need to be "a non-profit," instead of doing their own due diligence and discovering exactly what this entails, the APP quickly registered with the Colorado Secretary of State as a "non-profit association," announced this to the world, and in so doing, altered their proposed business plan to be centered around a dubiously non-profit incubator/office space entity with the tv station, biergarten and event company on-site to enhance the millennial-pleasing workspace.  (My personal favorite is how the APP insists that it will be providing a "public benefit" a la a non-profit charitable organization by merely having a shared workspace component.  A benefit to their 65 friends who are given a desk in the joint, sure.  But the public?  Hardly.)

In the past month, the PR game has lit up the editorial columns and local debate.  The APP has attempted to create a "beer vs billionaires" fight scenario along the lines of David vs Goliath, stating to anyone who will listen that just a few neighbors in an arguably nice 'hood are the only ones opposed to their plans a la the rich neighbors with their pots of gold and slick legal teams who hate young people and will squash them and their entrepreneurial ideas in the name of peace and quiet.  Ha.  The problem with this ridiculousness is the mere fact that "the neighbors" are just one opposing faction of the community (see THE OPPOSITION below).  With the non-profit hoax perpetrated by the APP being widely reported and the now-publicly known need for a controversial zoning change, the "beer vs billionaires" concept has gained absolutely zero traction.  The APP, by its own doing, has made the issue into far more of a "rogues vs residents" showdown between whiny and entitled rowdies who seek and expect special favors and exceptions just because they think they deserve them, and private property owners desirous of quiet enjoyment of their homes in accordance with the law.   
The momentum has markedly shifted.  Advantage, opposition.  Local distaste for variances, zoning changes and other government-granted favors has reached levels not seen in Aspen in a generation.  Surely, the APP principals have begun to see the writing on the wall?

For one year, as the city requested that the neighbors be patient and allow "the process" to run its course, I agreed to comply, if for no other reason than to support my fellow neighbors in what we saw as a complicated and uphill political battle.  I reluctantly agreed that "feedback" from The Red Ant might be akin to throwing gasoline on the fire and would likely serve to shame and embarrass the tender souls on city council whose votes would ultimately determine the final outcome.  I was compelled, however, to fire off a quick letter that was published in the Aspen Daily News in April following APP's questionable announcement that "it won't be a beer joint, rather a collaborative workspace with a food and beverage component."  Read it HERE.  As time ticked on, and the level of millennial whining and misinformation ruled the letters to the editors and local debate, I could simply sit on my hands no longer.  Once the neighbors met with the APP and learned what we were up against, and even more telling, what they are up to, the PR war was on.  Letters to the editor on both sides of the issue were abundant.   Another letter was called for when Aspen Daily News columnist and pro-APP mouthpiece Beth Brandon weighed in with another of her insipid columns illustrating and disseminating a frightening  dearth of facts or even basic understanding of the issues surrounding the possibility of the APP at the OPH.  I submitted the following, addressed to the author, which was published in both newspapers on May 14 & 16, 2016:

"I wanted to provide you with the facts of the issues surrounding what you call 'the Incubator Power Plant' and how it came to be chosen by council for potential tenancy at the Old Power House.  You appear to be misinformed.

The Aspen Power Plant, or APP as it is known, applied through a formal RFP process in 2014.  Applications from numerous entities were received and indeed vetted, but not by council.  An appointed citizens committee evaluated the various proposals and submitted four finalists to council.  The APP was not one of those finalists.

Mayor Steve Sakdron, who, at the onset of the tenant search, stated that it would be 'inappropriate' to hand over the space to an organization 'that has the wherewithal to operate in a private space,' apparently became enamored of the annual 4th of July picnic held on the site by the Aspen Art Museum and 'inserted' the APP and its plans for riverside revelry into final consideration.  Yes, the APP had been vetted, but with said vetting, the APP didn't make the cut.  It was the mayor who put it back into consideration.

I'm sorry that your frequent owl-spotting trips to the area have not given you an appreciation for the surrounding neighborhood in this quiet little pocket of town.  You have every right not to like this neighborhood, just as you may choose not to live here.  But it is a neighborhood.  And it just so happens to be my neighborhood.  You're right, it's not a publicly subsidized neighborhood, but I found your implication that somehow that makes it less of a neighborhood patently offensive.  I, along with my neighbors, value the views of the mountain and close proximity to the core from this quiet bend in the river every day.

Whether the APP will 'ruin' the neighborhood is anyone's guess.  It is certainly not their intent.  Nor is it the focus of the neighborhood's objection at this point.  We are all just curious when the APP, admittedly and proudly comprised of four for-profit entities, will obtain their tax exempt status from the IRS.  We have been waiting for over a year.  And no, it's not that we demand it, this is a requirement of Aspen's land use code for areas zoned 'public,' such as the Old Power House.  The 501(c)3 tax exempt status is mandatory before a lease can legally be signed between the city and the APP.  Sure, the RFP process allowed for-profit entities to apply, but the land use code very clearly states the need for that very specific IRS status.  It's right there in black and white.  (Perhaps this is why no other for-profit businesses applied.)

The proposed lease that everyone keeps hearing about can be negotiated ad nauseum, but until the APP has its required status from the IRS, no lease can be signed.  If not a tax exempt orgnization, the APP's proposed and selected use for the Old Power House would be considered 'non-conforming' to the existing code.  Perhaps this is why the citizens committee weeded the APP out several years ago?  I don't know.

It will be interesting to see how council proceeds.  Do they continue to extend their wait period for the APP to obtain federal tax exempt status?  For how long?  Or do they pass an ordinance that would allow for non-conforming use of the Old Power House?  The selection of a potential tenant is just that, a selection.  Nothing is legally binding until a lease is signed.  But an ordinace is an entirely different matter, wrought with far-reaching and precedent-setting legal and political implications.

Next time, before you misrepresent a process or disparage a neighborhood, I encourage you to learn the facts."

And just when you thought that rational minds were beginning to prevail, city staff upped its role as co-conspirator with the APP.  Shirking communication with council (but not city staff) and going directly to the press, the APP has recently (June 3 - read it HERE) announced its newfound plans to seek the elusive 501(c)3 status from the feds, but only AFTER the city issues them a lease!!  And what city official would even think to draft yet alone disseminate such a non-complying lease of public property in a blatant effort to protect a proposed tenant from the rigors of a zoning change?  None other than duplicitous city attorney Jim True/False -- the very same scoundrel who asked the neighbors to hold off on pushback and litigation while allowing the process to play out, even going so far as to promise neighbors that we'd see the proposed lease in time to react before it ever went to council.  But late Friday, True/False and the APP released the draft lease to the public. 

The document is linked above, but here are just a few gems that the APP feels entitled to:
25 year lease; initial term of 10 years at $15/sf for the ground floor and $10/sf for the upstairs (for comparison, this proposed lease rate is LOWER than real non-profits pay at the Red Brick!!!)

City to pay $1.35 million for building improvements (A/C, sewer service, roof and window replacement, etc)

28 on-site special events per year ($$)

Hours of operation 7a - 10p daily; access to the shared workspace  24/7/365

A host of other favorable-to-the-tenant policies.  And don't forget the city's admission of poor enforcement....

The APP defines its opposition as "a dozen neighbors" in the subdivision of Oklahoma Flats, neighboring the OPH off Gibson Avenue.  How wrong they are.  As one of these neighbors, I know firsthand because I keep the list of nearly 100 families in the surrounding area who oppose the APP at the OPH.  Yes, most all of Oklahoma Flats is on that list, but also those in River Bluff Townhomes, on Miners Trail, along Gibson Avenue, in Fox Crossing, on Spruce Street and a surprising number in the Smuggler trailer park see the APP's impact on the neighborhood as something none of us want, need or ever asked for.  

Beyond just the neighbors, add in the aggrieved non-profits who prepared lengthy (and costly) proposals for the OPH in 2014.  These organizations and their supporters were aghast at the APP's come-from-behind selection in 2015 and have watched in horror as the process has been handled in secret to this point in time.  That the APP is now attempting to join the local 501(c)3 ranks is not at all welcomed by the REAL non-profits in our community.

Then consider the Science Center advocates.  This hot new non-profit (with an incredible mission and without a home has generated interest, funding and real metrics from a pop-up experiment this winter) lost out in the final round to the APP.  The Science Center has already come forth stating its continued interest in occupying the OPH, including its willingness to share the space with other conforming entities such as the Red Brick Performing Arts Center.  They've even said they'd figure out how to accommodate a shared workspace component upstairs as presented in the APP proposal if this is something the community deems necessary.  Neighborly indeed.

And, let's not forget one of my personal favorites:  the city hall watchers.  This group recognizes the ongoing and never-ending pattern of bad decisions emanating from our local government.  Starting with the stupid idea to give away 7200 sf of publicly-owned space amidst planning to build 50,000 sf of new office space because of "need," and going from there (see Issue #122), this vocal component of diverse viewpoints in our community has successfully quashed the Hydro Plant and the Base 2 Lodge in recent years.  When the city hall watchers are joined by other what I will call "informed citizens against the miscarriage of public policy," the numbers grow and grow.  I know, I hear from all of them.  

And don't for a minute forget about John Q. Public who has been watching from afar and reading bits and bobs in the local papers.  These citizens resent council's decision to house for-profit businesses in a public space.  They especially see the APP lease negotiations as the city's way of bending the rules for a pet project.  No one wants an extension of Aspen's commercial core north of the Roaring Fork River for the first time. 

The community-wide opposition to the APP in the OPH is vast.  An Ordinance-Referendum scenario would surely end up at the polls where the APP would go down in flames.  And they know it.  The IRS hoax is all they can hope for. 

The looming decision (to pass an ordinance enabling the APP or to kill the deal and move on) is a problem of council's own making.   Recall that the APP didn't even make the cut when vetted by the citizens committee.  Several on council all but admit that they were caught up in the romanticism of beers by the river, and it's abundantly clear that absolutely no one in city hall looked into the very serious zoning implications.  For regular grown-ups, today's decision is straightforward and obvious.  But we're talking about Aspen's city council here.  Word is, of the four council members who hold the cards (Bert Myrin has recused himself due to a real estate interest in the Oklahoma Flats neighborhood), none of the four have the stomach for what is shaping up to be an Ordinance that will inevitably be followed up by a Referendum to unwind it.  This is how The Red Ant best gauges the council sentiment for/against the APP in the OPH at this critical stage:

ADAM: vocally opposed (voted against APP in 2015); has always said "great idea, wrong place"
ART:  vocally supportive; said "this decision will be THIS council's legacy" upon APP's selection in 2015, and yes, Art, it will be indeed; dug in with his opinion and not entirely lucid on the community pushback and implications of the looming ordinance/referendum scenario 
BERT:  cannot vote but vocally opposed; believes the city should not be giving 7200 sf away when it will need to rent that same amount of space for the next 5 years at ~$18K/month while the Taj Mahal is being built
ANN:  publicly non-committal but rumored to have supported APP in 2015 because of the "public theater and dances" to be held there, despite these activities NOT EVER being part of the APP's written proposal nor mentioned in either of its two presentations to council; up for re-election in May 2017 
STEVE:  recall that the mayor brought the APP proposal back to life from the trash heap in 2015 but his patience is waning, especially given the shenanigans related to the group's non-profit status; known to be a "reed in the wind" when it comes to decision-making (he goes with whatever he hears last); up for re-election to a potential 3rd term in May 2017

Soooo, the question has really changed to, "What is this group's appetite for an Ordinance/Referendum if they triple down for the APP?"  The Red Ant says, none, save maybe Art.  The others are solely focused on their political capital with the millennial voting block that is represented by the APP principals.  Council is trying desperately to save face and no one wants to be the bad guy, but this jig is up and everyone knows it.  APP is equally ego-invested and won't simply walk away; they want council to send them packing. The draft lease release is surely their great Hail Mary as the clock runs out.  The fragile egos will meet in public tonight to hash through the proposed lease, assuming council won't have the cajones to simply JUST SAY NO up-front based on the abundantly clear zoning laws. This needs to be the APP's last call.  

Attend the meeting and speak out -- council knows how the neighbors feel, but for those others (see THE OPPOSITION above), THIS is YOUR chance to state your disapproval.

Write to council -- they do read your letters, although several do not have the manners to acknowledge it:


Forward this email to your friends and neighbors.



ISSUE #123: ANT Alert - AVH Board Election  4/28/2016

"More people vote in 'American Idol" than in any US election."   

-- Rush Limbaugh



Were you as surprised as I was to receive an envelope marked "BALLOT" in your mailbox this off-season?  With little to no warning of an upcoming election of any kind, it caught me completely off guard!  It seems that nearly 12,000 ballots were recently mailed out to active voters in the Aspen Valley Hospital district, asking voters to "Vote for not more than two Directors for Four-Year terms."  Not one word about "Aspen Valley Hospital," "hospital board" or anything like that.  Just a ballot with seven names and directions to pick two.  Oh, and the hospital's address on the return envelope.

A lot of Red Ant research has yielded very little information, aside from: 

  • The completed ballots must be received by 7pm on May 3. 
  • This election is by mail-in ballot only (no polling places). 
  • If you didn't receive your ballot, you are encouraged to contact the "designated election official," Amy Trubiroha Wells, at (970) 544-1261. 
  • This election is not being coordinated by the Pitkin County elections department, so if you wish to drop off your ballot, you must do so at the hospital, 401 Castle Creek Road.


Here's why this election is important: 

  • AVH is a non-profit hospital which means it is focused on community need vs making a profit.  When there is positive operating revenue (profit), it is re-invested into the organization.  Or at least it is supposed to be.
  • This special district of government operates as a "political subdivision" of the State of Colorado, not the City of Aspen, not Pitkin County.  AVH is its own separate entity - with an elected board and a requirement to hold open public meetings.
  • According to its most recent audit (2014), AVH had operating expenses of over $72 million in 2014.  That's a bigger operating budget than the city!
  • At the end of 2014, AVH had over $42 million in cash and short term investments on the books.
  • Our small rural hospital has become a significant financial concern!
  • AVH currently has no CEO; a search is underway.

A little history: In 1995, voters of the hospital district were asked to approve a 1.5 operational mill levy.  The request was for a five-year period and it passed.  Since then, every five years, the district has asked for a renewal, always at 1.5 mills, and each time the operational mill levy passed, in 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015.  In 2015, the renewal received 73% of the vote in favor.

Additionally, in 2010, voters were asked to approve General Obligation (GO) bonds for the purpose of expanding/renovating the hospital.  The request for $50 million was approved.  The 2010 GO bonds, in combination with pre-existing debt, represent a similar levy on property taxes as the operational mill levy, nearly 1.5 mills.  In total, the hospital had $60.02 million in outstanding bonded debt and another $647K in capital lease obligations at the end of 2014.

Check out your property taxes - right there in black and white are the "taxing districts," listed in what appears to be no particular order.  See "Aspen Valley Hospital"?  The mill levy is 2.819 mills.  FYI -- your money funds the hospital, more than it does the Pitkin County general fund (2.298 mills), more than the Pitkin County Library (1.359 mills), less than Open Space and Trails (3.750 mills) and less than Colorado Mountain College (3.897 mills).

These two mill levies combined are only about 8-9% of AVH's total annual income.  The lion's share of its income comes from patient revenue - over $72 million in 2014.  While a small percentage, it is still A LOT of money.  One can conclude that service costs would be almost 10% higher if the tax revenue was not part of the picture.  But more than anything, the relative (small) size of the property tax piece of AVH's total income speaks more to the growth of the hospital and the cost of medical care than it does to the magnitude of our personal contributions to the hospital's financial picture.

It is the AVH board of directors who oversee this money and have the fiduciary responsibility to manage it in accordance with the law, including accurately and completely informing the voters how the money is used.


What I have gleaned from the papers informs me that there are seven candidates for two open board seats on the five-member, volunteer Aspen Valley Hospital board.  One current board member, Dr. Barry Mink, is not running for re-election.  Current board member Dr. Mindy Nagle is running as an incumbent.  The other six candidates are:  Greg Balko, Peter G. Hersgberger, Rudi E. Scheidt, Jr., Joseph Nedlin, Eric Willsky and Michael Lyons.


The Red Ant is concerned about the inherent conflict of interest when employees of the Aspen Valley Hospital also serve as their own bosses on the hospital's board of directors.  For this reason, and particularly because AVH is at a critical phase of its multi-year, multi-million dollar expansion and is currently without a permanent CEO, there is absolutely no place for conflicts of interest, real or perceived.  I personally do not think that employees of Aspen Valley Hospital should even be allowed to run for such board positions.  It's the local government equivalent of city manager Steve Barwick and city attorney Jim True running for positions on city council.  It's just not right.  Besides, the optics are bad.


Four of the seven candidates (Dr. Greg Balko, Peter Hershberger RN, Dr. Mindy Nagle and Dr. Eric Willsky) are employees of AVH.  These are each dedicated professionals at the tops of their fields, not to mention valued community assets whose commitments to the health and well-being of this community are to be commended.  These are also very bright and talented people.  This opinion is in no way a judgment on their reputations or qualifications.  In Aspen, voters often vote for candidates who are "good guys," as if that should be a determining factor.  These four are all "good guys (and gals)."  But it is the opinion of The Red Ant that the hospital board positions not be held by hospital employees. 

For that reason alone, this leaves just three candidates for consideration:

  • Rudi E. Scheidt
  • Joseph Nedlin
  • Michael Lyons

This election snuck up on me too.  (Note to whoever is responsible for this election:  An important election should NEVER be sprung on the electorate.  The community often perceives the AVH board as a secretive entity that does much of its business behind closed doors.  This doesn't help dispel that perception!)  I will be looking at the three above and making my choices.


The opinions above are those of The Red Ant.  I have cut it down to three.  Pick two.

  • HERE is a document provided by AVH just before press time that contains the bios of all seven candidates.  Read it.  
  • HERE HERE HERE and HERE are candidate answers to survey questions as printed in the Aspen Daily News to-date.  There may be more coming.
  • HERE and HERE are 11th hour contributions from The Aspen Times
  • Remember, ballots must be RECEIVED by 7p on Tuesday, May 3

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 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.


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.


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)


  • 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


  • 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!!


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.


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.


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.  


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.


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'.


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.


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

Lauren Glendenning

Write to council:

Adam Frisch

Art Daily

Ann Mullins

Bert Myrin

Steve Skadron


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


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. 


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.


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?! 


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?


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.


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?


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)


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


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.  


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:  The expanded library will open in Summer 2016.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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!!



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 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


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.


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!


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%.


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.  


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! 


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%).


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%).


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?