Snowmass rejects development restriction |

Snowmass rejects development restriction

Steve Benson

Snowmass Village voters on Tuesday rejected by 64 votes a divisive initiative that could have threatened an ambitious plan to expand the village at the base of the mountain and other future large developments.

The vote, which drew 822 of Snowmass Village’s 1,673 registered voters, was 443 against the initiative to 379 in favor of it.

“It feels pretty good,” Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester said last night. “We need to move forward and try to create the visions we set forward to do.”

If passed, the initiative would have changed the town’s land use code, requiring the public to vote on all future developments that exceeded the code by a certain percentage.

While it was questionable whether the initiative would have even applied to the Base Village project, the vote has at least momentarily eliminated the uncertainty surrounding the review process.

“Now I hope we can get past the people part – this is about ideas and issues, not about personalities,” Manchester said. “I think we have a lot of work to do as a community.”

A joint proposal from Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co., Base Village would add 641,371 square feet of residential space to Snowmass Village, including 349 condos, 264 hotel units and 10 townhomes, and 63,927 square feet of commercial space.

Size stress

Citizens for Responsible Growth, which feels the project is too large, launched the initiative in December to counter what they claimed was an unresponsive Town Council.

Former mayor Jeff Tippett, chairman of Citizens for Responsible Growth – or, CRG – said the election wasn’t a devastating blow and won’t change his approach.

“You just have to take the results for what they are,” he said. “I’ll continue to be involved, I’ll monitor the process and offer my input. There are still some very important topics coming up.”

Still, approximately 54 percent of the voters felt the initiative was a bad idea.

“[It’s] unnecessary and unwise,” Bob Purvis, a former member of the Snowmass Village Town Council, said Tuesday outside the polls at the Snowmass Chapel. “It’s unwise because it’s still up in the air if it applies to Base Village and the Snowmass Center.”

Prior to the election, Manchester said three attorneys had told him the initiative, even if it passed, would not apply to Base Village since review of the project has already begun.

Furthermore, Purvis said he felt the Town Council, which Citizens for Responsible Growth and Tippett criticized for being unresponsive to the community’s concerns, was unjustly attacked.

“I think this council has done a uniquely fine piece of work – they’ve been thorough and objective,” he said.

But while the election was supposed to be about the initiative, Base Village stole the spotlight. “People kept saying, ‘I’m voting yes because I don’t like what they’re proposing for Base Village,'” Manchester said.

Project support

But that wasn’t a one-sided issue, as many who voted against the initiative also did so because of Base Village. “I’m very in favor of Base Village,” Melissa Forster, owner of Tasters Restaurant, said outside the polls. “We need to stay competitive with the other resorts. We’ve got to change.”

Forster, who’s lived in Snowmass Village almost all of her life, added that she wanted to see the initiative shot down so the project would proceed.

“It’s getting old,” she said.

Jocelyn Durrance said she felt the same.

“We’re losing ground to other ski areas that are more attractive,” Durrance said. “The vitality of the community is really important – I want to have a livelihood.”

And despite being concerned about the impact the project will have on the roads and water in the village, Andy Meleg, who’s lived in Snowmass for 30 years, feels Base Village is a must.

“Snowmass needs this revitalization – we can’t be stagnant here,” he said.

Political pressure

While those who voted against the initiative were usually willing to talk, those who voted for it were more tight-lipped, and some refused to give their name.

Jack Hatfield, a Pitkin County commissioner and member of Citizens for Responsible Growth, said he felt many in the community were pressured by their employers, such as the Skico, to vote against the initiative. Those who voted for the initiative, he added, were weary of what the repercussions of doing so could entail.

“This is a small community, and there’s the potential of being black-balled from jobs,” Hatfield said.

The Town Council’s final decision on the project is perhaps months away. The possibility of a referendum now looms, which would force a final yes/no vote from the public regarding Base Village.

“It’s safe to say that’s an option,” Tippett said about launching a referendum. “[But] that’s probably several months away. There isn’t a need to decide on that right now.”

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