Paticipatory Democracy

Oct 28, 2014

Aspen Community Development Director, Chris Bendon, explains how participants can give instant input on lodging incentives proposed by the City of Aspen.
Credit Roger Adams

Earlier this month, Aspen City Council scrapped a controversial lodging incentive ordinance.  Now, at a series of public input sessions, the city is gathering survey responses on the issues contained in the ordinance.   Three more sessions are set for tomorrow (Wednesday 10-29-2014) and the survey will then be available online.

It is an exercise in participatory democracy.

APR's Roger Adams attended a session and filed this report.

Aspen long range planner, Jessica Garrow is explaining the need for lodging incentives before ten people who’ve come to a comment session.   All ten have small remote keypads and as a series of questions appear on a screen they click their answer. 

In seconds the distribution of responses flashes on screen. 

Sample question and distribution of answers at an input session on Aspen's proposed lodging incentives.
Credit Roger Adams

The questions include; should taller buildings be allowed in Aspen and if so where should they be located?  Should payments by developers into Aspen’s affordable housing program be cut?  Should building permit fees to developers be cut? 

There are about 40 minutes worth of questions.

Among those answering the survey at this session is Bill Tomcich, president of the central reservations service Stay Aspen Snowmass.

“Its fascinating to view with each question," says Tomcich,  "all the differences of opinion in one room.”

Tomcich helped provide much of the lodging data.  

He agrees with the prediction that if Aspen does nothing to upgrade its lodging and rental condo base the city will fall behind competitors in Utah, California and elsewhere in Colorado.

“Times change," he says, "and we have to adapt to those changes.  Whether it is as a community or a business, being adaptable and flexible and looking towards the future is absolutely essential in order to remain competitive.”

Aspen Long Range Planner, Jessica Garrow, tallies responses to questions from participants in comment sessions for the public on the city's proposed lodging incentives.
Credit Roger Adams

  Because the responses are tallied anonymously and immediately, we can see that someone else in the room is in effect nullifying Tomcich’s responses.  In this session, one person, reflected in the tallies as ten percent, essentially rejected the stated need for improvements and expansion.

For planners like Jessica Garrow, the instant feedback is an important tool in crafting new city rules about hotels, from how big the rooms should be to how tall the hotel itself should be.

Garrow says, “Part of what we’re trying to do now is get a little of the information out from what we’ve seen, what we have seen, the slow erosion of the bed base over the past 20, 25 years.  It’s about, is there community consensus on some of these issues and can we move forward and try and bolster that bed base?”

There are three more comment sessions tomorrow (Wednesday 10-29-2014.)  All are at the Aspen Firehouse 3rd floor meeting room at 10:30, noon and three pm.  Also tomorrow the same survey questions will go live online at www.aspenpitkin.com.   

The input is considered policy direction.  In Early December the lodging incentives will go before a public hearing.