Congratulations to the latest batch of "Students of the Month." Photo by Raleigh Burleigh

Tuesday’s meeting began with recognizing the first batch of students of the month for the new school year. All trustees were present, with Colin Laird and Luis Yllanes joining via Zoom. The unanimously approved consent agenda included: meeting minutes, a letter supporting Aspen Valley Land Trust’s request to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a Coffman Ranch trail planning grant, the third amendment to a development improvement agreement for Carbondale Marketplace as approved during the Aug. 22 meeting.

After two general public comments, one touching on Al Gore’s recent New Yorker Radio Hour interview and another on the history of the Forest Service in Colorado, trustees and the town manager gave brief updates.

Then, horticulturist Lisa DiNardo and four girls representing the Difference Club advocated for a resolution “recognizing the importance of protecting and supporting pollinators” which establishes June as “Pollinator Month” in alignment with other places in the United States. The resolution was unanimously approved.

Next, a new liquor license was granted to Jalisco Grill, a restaurant with locations in Basalt and Rifle that will take the corner space at La Fontana Plaza, previously home to 450 Teppanyaki. According to the applicant, Armando Vidrio, the restaurant will open in a few months.

A far more contentious liquor license approval involved renewal of the Black Nugget’s license. Mayor Ben Bohmfalk noted it’s unusual to have a lot of public comment challenging a normally routine liquor license renewal. 

Opposition was initially presented in writing by Laura Wagner, a former Black Nugget employee alleging harassment, wage theft and tax evasion on the part of ownership. 

The audience in-person and online was considerable, with nine members of the public sharing verbal comments.

Chief Kirk Wilson kicked it off. After conducting a records check he noted an instance of an underage person discovered in the establishment a few months ago, and a few occasions where police noticed staff drinking while on duty. Wilson recommended renewal with seven stipulations to adhere closely with standard rules.

Attorneys Mark Hamilton and Susan Ryan spoke to the legal grounds by which a liquor license renewal may be revoked. If the chief of police encounters statutory violations, they may initiate a process with a hearing officer. Otherwise, a license can be denied if the applicant is determined to be “not of good moral character” — defined by Colorado case law as having been convicted of a willfully malicious crime — or the establishment is negatively impacting its surroundings.

“Renewal doesn’t end inquiry,” clarified Hamilton. “There’s a constant possibility for revocation.”

During the public hearing, several people spoke against the applicant, Jan Balas, and several defended his character. Balas then addressed the accusations in detail, urging the trustees to consider that the Black Nugget receives a lot of “overflow” as the only business open until 2am.

The license was unanimously approved with stipulations. “We’re not taking any of this lightly,” assured Bohmfalk, asking that the police check in regularly to see that the stipulations are met.

Next, the trustees heard from three applicants for one open seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission. Jeff Davlyn, a regular voting member, asked to be reappointed for a third term. Candice Hart and Jesse Garcia sought appointment as alternate members. After interviews with each applicant, Davyln was reappointed with a unanimous vote.

Then, Town Manager Lauren Gister and Finance Director Christy Chicoine presented a draft budget for 2024 based on a conservative sales tax projection of a 1% increase over 2023. Along with the budget, they presented the first draft of a five-year capital improvement plan. Priorities for 2024 include better benefits for staff and a cost of living adjustment, bringing technology up to speed, deferred maintenance for Town-owned buildings including the Thompson House.

The proposed budget carries over $1.6 million from excess 2023 revenue to help finance the new pool, estimated to cost $11.5 million (with $6.5 million coming from the voter approved bond). Regarding fund balance expenditures, “the money is there to spend on meeting needs of the community,” said Bohmfalk, “while maintaining a rainy day fund and being able to pounce on opportunities.”

The meeting concluded with consideration of a letter to the Forest Service written by trustee Erica Sparhawk with input from trustee Chris Hassig. “They could have done a much better process,” summarized Sparhawk, “and they’re missing out on getting really good design input from our community, which happens to be filled with design professionals and creatives.”

“I can’t support this,” said trustee Marty Silverstein. “I don’t feel it’s the board of trustees’ place to tell them they could have done a better job.”

“I think it’s important for us to try to put it into the record that we don’t think this is appropriate,” argued Hassig. “This is not the kind of way we want our town to be treated by anybody.”

Four trustees voted in favor of the letter (Hassig, Laird, Sparhawk and Yllanes) and three voted against signing it (Bohmfalk, Lani Kitching and Silverstein). The narrow approval was received with applause from five people remaining in the audience. With that, the meeting adjourned.

Read the letter here: