City has opened the window to warranted criticism
Aspen’s city government has done it again.
With an offhand arrogance and an utter lack of understanding of the need to set a good example, the city has put aluminum-framed screens on the windows of City Hall without first discussing it with the Historic Preservation Commission.
People looking at the building today may well say, “What’s the big deal? The screens don’t look so bad.”
Indeed, they could have done worse. They could have used an even more modern sliding screen that would have been glaringly ugly. Instead, they used white-metal frames that are relatively unobtrusive. And, as long as we are tempering our criticism, it should be noted that the city’s goal for this project was certainly laudable: providing some fresh air for workers sweltering in a century-old building with inadequate ventilation.
But the facts that the intent was good and that the windows are not glaringly ugly entirely misses the point. And that point is that the city has an obligation to follow its own regulations, particularly when dealing with the seat of city government.
It seems safe to say that no private developer could have easily put up this kind of obviously inappropriate screens on a privately owned historic building in town. In fact, the HPC recently had specifically recommended against those very type of screens, a point that city administrators found it convenient to overlook.
As HPC members have quite publicly pointed out, in ignoring the city’s own policies and procedures, city officials have not only done a disservice to the volunteers who serve on the HPC, they have opened themselves up to charges that they view themselves as above the law.
Under those laws, a private property owner looking for a little fresh air would have to take his or her plans before the HPC and the City Council for review. That review is not – certainly should not be – an easy one. The HPC quite rightly takes its role very seriously, and has been urged to do so by the City Council on more occasions than can easily be counted. A private citizen looking to put metal-framed screen windows on a historic building would have had to go to great lengths to prove there was no other possible solution to the problem.
The city, though, used its executive powers to avoid any such discomfiting encounters of the historic kind. Knowing that the HPC is merely an advisory body, and that the City Council wanted a solution to the City Hall stuffiness, the bureaucrats simply did what the administration knew it has the technical, legal right to do – and didn’t bother floating the plan past the HPC.
In short, the city found a way to ignore the rules. The bottom line is a simple one: The city should do more than just follow the regulations. It should eagerly jump at the chance to have its plans and projects reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission – and, in fact, anyone else who might want to have a look at them. The city should set a good example.
The rules are, after all, for the greater good of the entire city; if the city itself does not obey them, why should anyone else? And if the city does not want private property owners looking for loopholes and a little bit of wiggle room between their project and the obvious intent of the law … why then clearly the city should not look for excuses to duck and dodge itself.
It may be that the metal screens will remain in place this summer and into the summers of the future. It may be that there was no other reasonable solution. It may be that the city can ill afford to throw away the $6,000 spent on the screens.
But the fact that the city felt no compunction at ignoring its own processes has undoubtedly done inestimable damage to the city’s standing in the eyes of the development community and the public.
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