October 8, 2014

In rush to approve, Snowmass Village council action could stall process

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Base Village slab Oct. 2014
Related Colorado received its long-sought vesting rights extension for Snowmass Base Village at a Snowmass Village Town Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, but the legality of the process has been called into question.

Related Colorado received its long-sought vesting rights extension for Snowmass Base Village at a Snowmass Village Town Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, but the legality of the process has been called into question.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Restarting Base Village has been the goal of the majority of the Snowmass Village Town Council since developer Related Colorado bought back the property two years ago.

“We believe it’s important to get through (Base Village vesting) while this council is seated. We’ve been involved with it for a long time,” Mayor Bill Boineau said.

The eyesore of unfinished buildings in the resort’s heart, coupled with stalled property values, is the impetus behind a “get ‘er done” mentality. And many believe that safeguards offered by Related Colorado in exchange for the four-year extension of its vesting rights is a reasonable tradeoff.

Council on Monday night, after a months’ long community debate, approved a four-year extension of Related’s vesting rights on a 3-2 vote.

But the current council’s push to approve the vesting extension for the developer and oversee submittal of a master plan for the project before the Nov. 4 election could backfire if someone decides to challenge a vote that may have been tainted by private conversations between a council member and one of Related’s development partners.

“I’m scared to death someone will bring a ‘106 motion,’ ” said mayoral candidate Arnie Mordkin. “That’s very serious and not what I want to see happen.”

The “106 motion,” according to Snowmass Village Town Manager Clint Kinney, starts the process where a judge determines whether an elected official acted inappropriately with regard to “ex-parte communications.” If successful, it can undo actions such as the vesting vote.

While not offering specific information, citizen Richard Goodwin, a frequent critic of Base Village, said Tuesday, “I am going to take the appropriate action in light of this ‘bombshell.’ I will have a definitive plan of action within 10 days.”

Before Monday’s vote, councilman Chris Jacobson accused his colleague Fred Kucker of engaging in ex-parte conversations with Don Schuster, vice president of hospitality for Aspen Skiing Co. While not the applicant, SkiCo is under contract to buy property in the stalled development from developer Related Colorado and could theoretically benefit from the vesting extension.

Kucker has maintained that the conversations with Schuster “were not inappropriate.” But Jacobson has suggested that some of Related Colorado’s concerns were communicated back to the councilman, who subsequently added changes to the council packet prepared in advance of the Sept. 8 meeting. Those changes involved what Related would be charged in “liquidated damages” if it didn’t meet deadlines for completing phases of Base Village construction.

Related Colorado attorney Joe Krabacher could not be reached for comment.

A chain of e-mails between interim town manager Gary Suiter, town attorney John Dresser, town clerk Rhonda Coxon and Jacobson, shows that Kucker added information to the extensive document that was later reviewed by himself and the rest of council.

In one email, Coxon writes: “How funny is this, Fred Kucker told me to hold the packet because he has a change for John Dresser!”

Jacobson said Mayor Bill Boineau subsequently tried to remove information about “liquidated damages” and a “force majeure clause” that Kucker had inserted before the packet was completed.

Boineau said that happened because he was worried there had been communication with the applicant outside of the public view. “I said, is there a way to take that off and discuss it in the public forum? It was a concern.”

Jacobson is also alleging that Councilwoman Markey Butler had inappropriate discussions with SkiCo’s Schuster. Contacted on Tuesday, Butler said the conversation concerned a Limelight hotel for Snowmass and the phone call was only made because she had missed the Aug. 18 public presentation on the property.

“I said to Don, I’m really pleased about SkiCo and Related, but I have a question for you. If SkiCo is to proceed would it even be plausible if you can accelerate where [the Limelight project was in the review process] when the negotiations stopped? He said he didn’t know because of what’s in our land-use code,” Butler said.

According to Butler, Schuster called back the next day and said SkiCo owner Jim Crown “would be interested in accelerating this. He made some comment about financial security or damages on private property … ” Butler said she then referred to Kucker’s previous comments about how much Related would be charged each day for non-performance.

At that point Butler said, “I’m not in any position to talk with you or Related. That’s a conversation between you and the town attorney.”

She told Aspen Journalism, “I know you can’t talk to the developer. I was clear about that with Schuster.”

Butler suggested that Jacobson’s allegations are based more on political gamesmanship than an elected official doing his duty. Butler is running for mayor against Mordkin and Jason Haber, the latter who frequently votes with Jacobson in the minority.

Jacobson said that’s untrue, and his concern is adherence to the political process.

“They have the votes. They don’t have to break the rules,” Jacobson said. “Fred held up the packet and got additional amendments in at the last minute. That’s allowed but all of the amendments are supposed to take place in a public forum.”

Jacobson said he believed Kucker should have recused himself from voting Monday on the vesting extension. His vote, with Butler and Boineau, gave Related Colorado the 3-2 majority it needed.

Town manager Kinney said Tuesday that no one had contacted him about filing a 106 motion. Kinney added that the “town’s job is to protect the process. There are ways the community can have this reviewed by an outside court system. That’s what a 106 can do.”

Editor’s note: Madeleine Osberger (on Twitter, @Madski99) is editor of Aspen Journalism’s Government Desk. She’s currently collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of Snowmass Village. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.

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