A Snowmass Village planning commissioner’s unsolicited advice to the owners of a major project now under development review has triggered a short delay in the review schedule and criticism of the commissioner’s action from both the applicant and town staff.
During the April 3 meeting of the Snowmass Planning Commission, where preliminary plan review of the Snowmass Center project commenced, commissioner Thomas Fridstein offered some of his personal views on the redevelopment of the town’s locally serving commercial node — including drawings which he shared on a zip drive with center owner Eastwood Snowmass.
According to the meeting minutes: “Tom Fridstein said that he did not think the Main Street as designed would work. He brought out a sketch contained on a zip drive and asked the applicant to project it on the screen. It moves all the retail to the Snowmass Center Commercial Core, eliminates the Main Street area, which becomes a pedestrian walkway and relocates all the parking to a dual-level structure on the south side of the project.”
Eastwood Snowmass received what is known as sketch plan approval, the first of the town’s three-prong approval process, last year for the Snowmass Center redevelopment. It’s during this initial stage when big picture concepts are sussed out, according to Town Manager Clint Kinney.
The Snowmass Center redevelopment includes 58,433 square feet of commercial and office space, 100,322 square feet in free-market housing and 11,346 square feet in deed-restricted housing.
Fridstein’s action was called out by the applicant, which requested a continuance to June 5, “to allow a pause in the schedule to accommodate an objective review, resolve issues, and accommodate some of Eastwood’s personal timing conflicts that were unexpected,” according to project representative Richard Shaw of Design Workshop.
In an email Friday, Shaw explained to the Aspen Daily News: “There has been planning response by our team to modify the plan as it has been reviewed based on the collective Planning Commission’s thoughts, rather than just a single member of the commission.
“It was an unexpected action and highly unusual to have someone else’s plan brought to the meeting since the plan application has undergone extensive review and effort to complete an almost 800-page Preliminary Plan Application for the redeveloped Snowmass Center.
“The role of a planning commissioner is to be the reviewer of the application not the generator of a design or plan for a project. The Planning Commission works as a body in their formal meetings to provide the review and recommendations as is stated in the code,” Shaw said.
“We thought this would allow the positive momentum of the Preliminary Plan review to continue and be fully in compliance with the land-use planning process in the town’s municipal code,” he added.
Fridstein, who was absent for the April 17 planning commission meeting, could not be reached for comment.
To ensure this kind of action isn’t repeated, last week commission members were asked to watch a film on ethics and quasi-judicial review produced by the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, or CIRSA.
Kinney said the timing of the CIRSA video was partly because the commission has two new members, Brian Marshack and Laura Rice.
“When you sit behind the dais, you want to do the best job you can. You can’t listen to input from someone on a ski lift” or who is encountered in the grocery store, Kinney said. “We’re trying to make sure the quasi-judicial process is protected.”
The CIRSA video, which runs about 15 minutes, reiterated that review information must be collected during the meeting and that outside discussions are viewed as “ex parte” talks and not allowed.
Kinney also said that within the three-step review process, the first stage (sketch plan) is where new concepts are entertained. By preliminary plan, the framework for review is already established.
That point was noted April 17 by Town Attorney John Dresser. In remarks to the planning commission, he said of Eastwood Snowmass, “They have the right to amend their application. You don’t have the right to tell them to amend the application.”
Dresser also stressed to the commissioners in attendance to decide an application’s merits and deficiencies based upon information heard in council chambers.
The Planning Commission will continue its review and public hearing of the Snowmass Center application at 4 p.m. on June 5.