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December 11, 2013
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Buddy, can you spare a diamond?

I must admit I have been amused — mildly amused, to be sure — at the recent spate of local developers asking for a hand-out.

Since we’re talking big-time developers in this big-time valley, it’s not “Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?” It’s more like, “Hey buddy, can you spare a diamond?”

The first one that caught my eye came from Mariner Real Estate Management of Kansas City.

Wait a minute! Kansas City? Didn’t I say “local developers”? Yes, I did. Mariner Real Estate of Kansas City is the current owner of the Willits project right here at the heart of the Greater El Jebel Metropolitan Area (the GEJMA).

OK. But, according to my dictionary, a “mariner” is a sailor; someone who sails out on the ocean. If so, any mariner who winds up in Kansas City is seriously lost. Why do we have a deeply confused sailor running our local shopping center?

(By the way, Mariner is also the name of a series of NASA interplanetary robotic expeditions to Mars, Venus and Mercury — in which case these guys are really, really lost. Robots on the wrong planet.)

Never mind. Mariner is running the Willits show, no matter how confused or lost they may be.

And this week, Mariner asked the Town of Basalt for a $1 million subsidy. Let’s write that out: $1,000,000.00 A nice, round number.

And that request for a hand-out came wrapped in a bold statement about what a grand success the project was.

Any “uncertainty of whether Willits could become a successful project is pretty well settled,” Mariner said in its application for the great, big gift certificate.

So, the logic seems to go like this: The project is such a smash hit that its owners deserve a million bucks as a reward — above and beyond the huge profits they must be raking in — and they must be raking in the profits because it’s such a smash hit.

Try that next time you’re looking for a raise.

“Yo, boss! You pay me so much, I need a raise.”

How could that fail?

By the way, in case you’ve lost track, the Willits project, when completed, will include 500,000 square feet of development in 12 great, big buildings.

Anything that big and that successful clearly needs all the help it can get.

A big chunk of that million-dollar hand-out, by the way, comes from building-permit and plan-review fees that Mariner wants waived.

Fees are designed to cover the costs to the city of evaluating the project, but, according to its application (as reported in The Aspen Times), Mariner figures the project will have a major economic benefit to the community — and therefore Mariner ought to take back a chunk of that benefit, because … well, you know, just because.

And, oh yeah, Mariner wants to provide less parking than required. And they want to add a few more high-priced condos. And put some signs out on the highway.

All the usual stuff.

And they should get whatever they ask because Basalt ought to be damned grateful that Mariner has decided to make its huge profits by investing its money in a development here.

Of course, some might say that Mariner ought to be damned grateful that Basalt is a great community that offers such a grand place to make a whole lot of money.

Nah. Why be grateful for that?

Meanwhile, up in Aspen, the owners of the Hotel Aspen want to knock down and redevelop their hotel.

And, while they’re at it, they want to increase the size of the building by roughly 75 percent — from about 21,000 square feet to about 36,000.

And most of that increase in size will consist of four high-priced condominiums.

The size of the new hotel-plus-condos will exceed the maximum allowed by the zoning. It will exceed the maximum allowed with special review.

But, hey, never mind those quibbles. They ought to be allowed to do it because, you know — all together now: The project will provide a major economic benefit to the community.

And if someone’s benefitting the community, by golly, that someone wants a bigger slice of that particular pie.

Bigger pie, bigger slice.

It’s all so simple.

Oh yeah, they also want (surprise!) the city to waive just under $92,000 in development fees.

Why? See above: pie, bigger slice of.

Now I understand this is all just part of the game.

And, all giggling aside, it’s a pretty rough game.

The developers have generally pre-gamed the game by beating up the referees in the locker room.

We hear a lot of howling about how impossible the local development rules are. We hear how no one in his right mind would spend money to develop anything in the Roaring Fork Valley. We hear how the damn Commies have taken over local government.

But, hey guys, the red on our public officials isn’t the red of Communism. It’s the red of bloody noses from getting punched in the face so often.

And, with all the howling, little by little the rules get eased.

Consider the way Basalt just repealed its regulation requiring developers to replace 100 percent of any affordable housing they tear down.

What? 100 percent? No one will develop if that’s the rule!

Wham! Pow!

And so the housing-replacement rule is cut way back. From 100 percent replacement to 45 percent. Or even less; some cash — pocket change — for “relocation.” (In the old Westerns it used to be, “There’s a stage coach leaving this afternoon. Be on it.”)

And don’t you just know that the next developer will point to the new, relaxed rule and say, “Hey! That’s way too harsh. Let me build just half as much replacement housing as the rule requires. Better yet: No replacement housing. Oh — and I’ll need you to waive $100,000 in development fees.”

And don’t you just know that town officials will find a way to say “Yes” — voices slightly muffled by the bloody Kleenex packed in their nostrils.

And that, my friends, is the way the game is played.

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 11, 2013 02:50PM Published Dec 11, 2013 03:06PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.