Stone: Surly kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar
August 27, 2014
Just like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
That was my first thought when I read that the Aspen City Council was suddenly changing its mind about the lodge-incentive ordinance it approved just two weeks ago.
Facing a vigorous petition drive aimed at forcing a city-wide vote on the ordinance, the council seemed ready Monday night to reconsider the new rules that would, among other ill-considered items, allow for four-story hotels at the base of the mountain.
But, as I read the newspaper stories, that cookie-jar analogy began to look shaky.
Kids caught red-handed (crumb-handed?) generally show a little guilty shame, which is traditional under the circumstances.
But some of our stalwart councilmen managed to be remarkably mean-spirited — tossing out surly comments aimed at the organizers of the petition drive and at Aspen residents in general.
It's almost enough to make one think, "Hmmm. Instead of a petition to get rid of that ordinance, maybe what we really need is a petition to get rid of those arrogant bastards."
Strong words? Sure. Intemperate? OK.
But really …
Councilman Adam Frisch, who ought to work on his deep-breathing exercises, snapped that a vote against tall buildings would be more popular than the vote in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Well really, sir, if you can see that, why the heck did you vote in favor of tall buildings in the first place?
When the petition-drive organizers said they wanted the matter to proceed to a public vote, instead of having the council withdraw the ordinance and tinker with it, Frisch responded, "You smell blood, and you've won. You'd rather spend four or five months stirring the pot."
He sneered about a "touchdown dance" and "rubbing salt in the wounds" and suggested the organizers should, instead, "start the dialogue about what needs to happen to get community buy-in."
Showing a little more restraint, Councilman Dwayne Romero said, "It feels to me like a process is being pushed here as opposed to an alternate set of solutions."
What both men were overlooking was the fact that the time to "get community buy-in" and find "an alternate set of solutions" was before they passed the damn ordinance in the first place.
If they weren't alert enough to community opposition or concerned enough about the character of the town to avoid this mess, they ought to be smart enough to shut up, step back and let the people have their say.
When people rise up and demand a vote, that's true democracy. It's a sign that we really do care.
Aspen has held a lot of "issue" elections over the years.
There's always shouting and screaming and fist-waving. Arms are twisted — and, boy oh boy, so is the truth.
I have to say that the side I personally favor has been on the losing end more often than I care to think about. Voters have approved things I hated and hated things I loved.
But win or lose, that's Aspen.
A few weeks ago, we had the story of the infamous Mick Ireland fistfight over the art museum. The details are in dispute, and I'm thinking we'll never know what really happened — at this point, I doubt that the people involved actually know what happened.
But I was astonished by comments in the letters to the editor and online saying, in essence, "Fistfights over zoning? Horrors! That's not the Aspen I know!"
Well, to hell with that noise.
Fist fights over zoning sounds exactly like the Aspen I know. Politics has been nasty around here for a long time.
From the mayor of Aspen in the 1960s driving down Highway 82 in the middle of the night with a chain saw and cutting down every billboard between here and Glenwood to Hunter S. Thompson in the 1990s campaigning against an airport expansion with the slogan "There is some shit we will not eat!"
And, while I hasten to make it clear that I really, really do not approve, the Holland Hills subdivision, next to Basalt, was distinguished by an actual fake windmill ("Holland" Hills, get it?) — until someone used dynamite to remove that offense to decency.
And — again, I do not approve — in the early 1970s, the Concept 600 building, at the time the biggest, ugliest new building in town, was set ablaze and burned pretty much to the ground when it was under construction.
There were City Council and county commissioner meetings when the rooms were packed with large, angry men (contractors, mostly) who never stepped over the line but were certainly darn near the punch-someone-in-the-nose point over the government's latest outrage.
And then there was the honk-in, when a mob of enraged residents circled City Hall in their cars, honking their horns as loud and as long as they could to protest paid parking.
Politics in Aspen has long been a joyously raucous business.
And, while I don't want anyone to punch Ireland (or me, for that matter) in the nose, I think we should salute the passion that rises up when residents decide their elected representatives are a bunch of idiots.
That is what happened here this past week. And, like the petition organizers, I hope we have a vote and find out how the town as a whole feels about it — after we've all spent a fair amount of time, money and printer's ink fighting over it.
And if my side loses and the people fling the door wide open to four-story hotels and other obscenities, well, I'll hate it, but that's OK.
Because if that is what the residents of Aspen want this town to be, so be it.
I don't think every zoning decision should go to a vote of the entire town.
But sometimes, when the stakes are really high (four stories high), and the council seems to be blind, deaf and/or really dumb, the people need to take matters into their own hands.
So let's have that fight. Let's rant and rave. Let's decide — if not for once and for all, then at least for right now — what we want Aspen to be.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.