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Snowmass voters to decide development

Daily Staff Writer
Snowmass Village Mayor T. Michael Manchester, an architect, feels the anti-Base Village initiative is an affront to representative democracy. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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It’s the stuff bad Western movies are made of – there’s the mountain town, the developer, the man fighting to defend his fellow townsmen and the mayor trying to keep it all together.

By Steve Benson

Aspen Correspondent

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of four articles about the state of Snowmass Village and Snowmass Ski Area as they relate to the proposed Base Village project. Different perspectives will be presented in each.

It’s the stuff bad Western movies are made of – there’s the mountain town, the developer, the man fighting to defend his fellow townsmen and the mayor trying to keep it all together.

But unlike the movies there are no gunfights. Instead, there’s an election.

In response to the size of Snowmass’ proposed Base Village development, and calling the Town Council unresponsive, a group called Citizens for Responsible Growth launched an initiative ordinance in December and forced a vote that is scheduled for today.

If the initiative passes it will change the land-use code. The ability of the Town Council to approve projects that exceed certain limitations will be curbed, and all future development plans that exceed the land-use code by a certain percentage will need citizens’ approval.

Many worry that the initiative will put a stranglehold on construction of Base Village. T. Michael Manchester, the mayor of Snowmass Village, considers the initiative an insult and a threat to the community’s future.

“I think the initiative is an attack on representative democracy,” he said. “I don’t believe it was ever intended as a personal attack, but I take it personally as an elected representative of the community.”

Manchester said the initiative prevents him and the village’s other elected officials from doing their job, which is to review the application before making a decision. A referendum, which could have been launched following a final decision, would have made more sense, he added.

“It’s a wrong way to accomplish the stated goals of Citizens for Responsible Growth – it’s very bad legislation,” he said. “If it passes it will be counterproductive to achieving the vision outlined in the [comprehensive] plan.”

Resort struggles

That vision, Manchester said, is for a base village. In fact, a base village has been part of the town’s master plan since its creation in 1979. Since that time, three base village proposals have been rejected, for various reasons.

In 1996, when Manchester was a councilman – he’s been mayor for five years – the community began redrafting its comprehensive plan, which essentially outlines the goals and aspirations for the community and the resort. The vision and aspiration: “To be the leading multi-season, family oriented mountain resort community.”

“We knew we weren’t doing as well as we would like in 1996,” Manchester said. “[1997 and 1998] were good years, but I can tell you even then they were telling us this was not going to last.”

Between 1998 and 2003, net sales tax revenues in Snowmass Village declined by 31 percent, after adjusting for inflation, he said. While a poor economy has caused everyone to suffer, Manchester said Snowmass is really struggling.

“Yes, people are down, the economy is down, but we’re down a lot,” he said. “Our product is dwindling away, our appeal is diminishing, the power of the mountain cannot carry you if you cannot be competitive in other aspects of what people are looking for.”

And what people are looking for is a base village at Snowmass, he said.

Size requirements

The community generally agrees that a base village is needed, but disagreements over the size have been sharp. Members of Citizens for Responsible Growth are in favor of a base village, but one that is smaller.

Manchester doesn’t think the proposal from Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co. can get smaller. Last week, he expressed his approval of the size and his desire to move forward and no longer discuss the issue.

“We need the right Base Village in order to provide the products the destination guest is looking for – both in the commercial and the lodging, and it needs to be the size that it is,” he said.

The commercial aspect, Manchester said, needs to be the size it is – 63,927 square feet – “in order to be efficient to create the vibrancy that our guests are looking for.”

And, he added, the residential space needs to be about 10 times larger – 641,371 square feet – to make the commercial space “viable.”

Obviously a lot of residents – Manchester will find out just how many on Tuesday – feel the reasons behind the projections are baseless and unfounded. But for Manchester, the feeling is mutual.

“No. 1 one, I’m not sure what the basis for their determinations are for any of the subjects, particularly as it relates to density,” he said.

Many residents, particularly Jeff Tippett, a former Snowmass mayor and the chairman of Citizens for Responsible Growth, have expressed concern over the impact such a large project will have on the roads in Snowmass Village and the Brush Creek Valley.

“I don’t think there is any significant increase in peak hour traffic, but I’m anxious to get to studying that,” Manchester said. “We are actually reducing the number of day skier parking spaces in the core of the town, so I don’t see a huge increase in traffic as a result of day skiers.

“Our vision is to create a destination where people come and stay more often. Even if we increase the amount of people [in the village], the traffic traipsing back and forth to Aspen will decrease.”


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