Town council candidate Alyssa Shenk joined remotely to debate candidates Matthew Owens, Gray Warr, Tom Fridstein and Jeff Kremer at Thursday’s Squirm Night debate.

On the same evening of the final presidential debate between contenders Donald Trump and Joe Biden, two candidates for mayor and five who are seeking a town council seat in Snowmass Village faced off on issues of local importance during a Squirm Night candidate forum in council chambers.

Mayoral candidates Bill Madsen and Tom Goode were first to answer questions by the editors of Aspen Daily News and The Aspen Times, Megan Tackett and David Krause, respectively. Colleagues on the current council that’s led by term-limited mayor Markey Butler, Goode and Madsen were aligned on more issues of their expressed positions than they were opposed.

Rental versus for-sale housing was an area of divergence. Goode, who owns a plumbing and heating business, would like to see more of the town’s inventory and future building be directed toward rentals. Goode cited the length of the town’s current rental list, which he said includes people “waiting three to five years” for a unit, and stressed the vitality that having more local people in town would bring.

Moreover, “I’m not sure a lot of local people can afford a $500,000 deed-restricted home,” Goode said of the units in the Coffey Place development that’s currently underway.

Madsen, who pointed out that his mother still rents below-market value units to Aspen locals, said he preferred a mix of low-cost units, rentals and for-sale units. He does not favor only rentals.

“It’s important for people to own a chunk of Snowmass Village,” Madsen said in referring to members of the workforce investing in the community and how that gives them “connectivity.”

Both men referred to the town’s housing projects planned for Coffey Place, Carriageway and the Snowmass Inn, noting how those help meet council goals.

Small town and development

Madsen, who was born and raised in Aspen and has been director of the NASTAR recreational skiing program for 30 years, spoke glowingly of Snowmass’ small-town attributes.

“It’s important to have stimulation” artistically and intellectually as well, he emphasized.

He referred to the 2010-11 ice age discoveries from Ziegler Pond and how they deserved a local showcase. He also said that the reservoir, from which the bones and other artifacts were pulled, was integral to the village’s future as well as its past.

“I want to see Snowmass Water and San expand the water source up there,” Madsen said. He then spoke of how climate change would be a defining part of our generation.

Goode said it’s incumbent on elected officials to be watchdogs for the community and said the new changes brought by second homeowners who are now here permanently because of COVID-19 bear close watch as their impacts are felt, from the grocery stores to the school system.

“I will continue to do what I can to protect this community,” Goode said.

Madsen joked that while he earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado, he earned his “PhD in recreation” while living in Aspen and Snowmass. Madsen emphasized that “making sure Snowmass Village is fun” is among his goals as an elected official.

“Snowmass is based on recreation. The foundation of this community is based on recreation,” he said.

Goode, who arrived here in the 1970s, said he remembers when Snowmass Village was a sleepy little town. A former football player turned football coach, Goode said recreation is but one part of a mayor’s job.

“The serious part is keeping the town running. Keeping the developers at bay is a challenge,” Goode said.

While the two mayoral candidates didn’t always agree, they appeared to share a mutual respect.

“One of the real assets of being on the council is developing a team environment,” Madsen said, when asked if he would consider appointing Goode to a council seat should Madsen win the mayoral prize.

Goode said he would wait to answer whether he would want to be appointed to Madsen’s town council seat, should the latter win voters over, given that he still hopes to win the mayor’s seat.

Council gets its turn

Of the five candidates seeking a council seat, only one is an incumbent: Alyssa Shenk. She’s served on council since 2014, is proud of what has been accomplished during the term and argued her job is not done.

“We need people that have the knowledge to see these projects through,” Shenk said. During closing remarks, she noted: “I bring invaluable insight into this town council” and maintained her presence ensures that families and women have a voice.

Jeff Kremer, a 29-year Snowmass Village resident who is now retired, said he believes the pace and size of building was established after residents narrowly approved the Base Village referendum in 2005. When East West Partners sought to amend the original Base Village PUD approval in 2015, Kremer said he was not opposed to their changes, as it represented a road to the project’s completion.

But Kremer also said that now that there are major projects in the construction pipeline, safeguards should be in place on the community’s behalf.

“I am more concerned about the impacts of construction,” he said, suggesting it was tantamount to his concerns about the actual development. Integral to Kremer’s campaign platform is a focus on quality of life and elevating the notion of community character.

Candidate Tom Fridstein said his work as one of the authors of the 2018 Snowmass Village Comprehensive Plan while a planning commission member — and also as its chairman — offers insight into how to balance the community’s and resort’s needs.

That’s augmented by his decades as an architect, past president of Snowmass Rotary and experience working with major developers, Fridstein said. His ties to Snowmass Village hearken back more than 50 years; Fridstein’s late father, Bob Fridstein, was also a proud member of the planning commission.

“My goal is always to make sure we’re getting the best benefit for the community,” Fridstein said. “It’s all about the balance. Just big enough,” he said, quoting the phrase that underlies the town’s development philosophies.

Gray Warr, one of the two prospective councilmen who spoke of having young children (Matthew Owens’ child also was referenced during the debate) is all for revitalization of the village, even going so far as saying it needs a facelift.

“Let’s stay relevant,” Warr said. The SkiCo employee, who works out of Elk Camp Meadows, referenced his working-class background and that he continues to work on the frontline with the public.

Housing, not surprisingly, was seen as one of the most pressing issues in Snowmass Village among the five candidates.

“Snowmass will not be Snowmass if we don’t have people here to run it,” said Owens, who has a property management business. He said the housing need shouldn’t have been allowed to get so sorely out of balance with its supply.

“I think that’s a failure of planning for the last 16 years [that I have lived here]. It needs to be Priority One,” Owens said. He advocates for more rental units: “I don’t see a whole lot of Mountain View II’s going up,” he said in reference to the town-built project.

He continued, “Any future development moving forward needs to have housing attached to it.”

The number of locals on the waitlist for rental housing — well over 100 — was cited by several of the candidates in their calls for more housing.

Tom Fridstein said he thinks a master plan to arrive at a more concrete number of actual unit needs is advisable.

Fridstein also said the town must be realistic about what it can afford to build, citing a study that put the average cost to build at $800,000 per unit for 260 units, totaling more than $200 million. Fridstein also said childcare should be considered when housing is built, an idea supported by Warr.

Of a housing master plan, Shenk said, “Pushing this forward and really getting a better handle on what we need, can afford, that’s going to be a top priority on everyone’s mind.” Senior housing and allowing one to age in place are other needs, she added.

Shenk said the town’s Comprehensive Plan, with its seven building principles, provides a solid and defensible roadmap of compliance for elected officials.

Like in the mayoral debate, there was discussion among the council candidates about the affordability and practicality of building single-family homes for workers that run $500,000 and up. Candidates, including Jeff Kremer, Matthew Owens and Gray Warr, raised that point.

“Five-hundred-thousand-dollar homes at Coffey Place might be a bit of a stretch for the average worker,” Owens said.

Referring to the Coffey Place homes, Warr noted, “When we’re looking at taking care of our community, that’s taking care of the upper part.”

He had previously cited a laundry list of Snowmass housing projects in various stages of planning and their number of units.

The entrance to Snowmass and revitalizing and completing Town Park are priorities for Kremer and Shenk. Kremer spoke of how “The entrance is something that should have been addressed many years ago,” and said the recreational amenities planned will be shared by a widespread audience.

“It’s going to benefit everybody who lives here, everybody who visits here,” Kremer said.

Dealing with the existential threat of COVID-19 is a top priority for most of the candidates.

“The town of Snowmass should do everything in its power to keep us safe and prevent another shutdown,” Warr said.

“There’s going to be continuing challenges which are essential to the survivability of our businesses,” Fridstein underscored.

Shenk, while working at the Aspen food bank since April, has been able to see the pandemic’s impacts on the local community.

“I know COVID has affected people in so many ways,” she said.

To watch the Squirm Night mayoral and council debates in their entirety, go to Aspen Daily News’ Facebook page or GrassRootstv.org.

Madeleine Osberger is a contributing editor of the Aspen Daily NewsShe can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99