Gimme gimme gimme – it’s the Aspen way
The other day I was chatting with a gal who was doing a case study on the social dynamics of resort communities, ours in particular. At one point I said that when I first arrived in Aspen, way back when, I’d never been to any place like it, didn’t even know a place like this existed. I’ve said that before and I’ve written it before. I was talking about how democratic it was here, then, an almost classless society. Sure some people had a lot of dough and most did not, but it didn’t seem to matter, everyone treated each other as equals, more or less.Then I went on to my standard rant bemoaning those days gone by. After she left it occurred to me that, in truth, I could still make that same statement – I’ve still never been to or even heard of a place like this – but now for different reasons. I’ve never heard of a place where so many people were motivated purely by greed, self-interest and a sense of entitlement. Aspen, Colo., is probably the only place on the planet where Paris Hilton and Britney Spears could give an ethics seminar and actually bring a little something to the table.My favorite new offense to anything resembling human decency comes from a group of developers who purchased the Cooper Street Pier building. I, for my own purposes, fondly refer to these developers as, well, something unprintable in a family newspaper. The Cooper Street scenario was splashed across the pages of the local newspapers earlier this month, and reading it was a lot like not being able to take your eyes off the carnage of an automobile accident as you drive by.Attorneys for the Cooper Street people sent a lengthy document to the City Council detailing how many ways to Sunday they would sue them if they had the temerity to prohibit these folks from doing whatever the hell they want with the Cooper Street Pier building. It was like something out of a gangster movie: “We’re going to send you a proposal you can’t refuse.”The sense of entitlement was nothing short of breathtaking. Any community worth its salt would be heating up the tar and slashing open pillows at the idea of a developer trying to push around elected officials in this manner. Not here – letter writers who freak out over homeless people and get apoplectic at the idea of the local TV station airing a moronic, holocaust-denial film don’t seem remotely offended by the clumsy, strong-arm tactics of the Cooper Street developers. Who knows, maybe they’re part of the Cooper Street crowd. Either way, it’s just business as usual in a town where money talks and everyone else better shut up.The Cooper Street people will get exactly what they want in the end because of their money, the way the people who wanted to build the lovely “party pool” above Hallam Lake did. These folks rolled into town, bulldozed a historic house, built a new one more to their liking, and decided that they needed a swimming pool overlooking the nature preserve. This appeared to violate a special zone around Hallam Lake and met with stiff opposition, but somehow the skids of progress were greased and love filled the air. Case closed, opposition bought off, water park a done deal. The Beatles said, “all you need is love.” Ha – all you need is money.Out on McLain Flats some folks wanted to build a 13,000-plus-square-foot house on a lot that was zoned for a 5,700-square-foot house. What they wanted, obviously, far exceeded the zoning. Guess what’s going to be built? They convinced the county that it’s going to be “invisible” so the county is letting them use Transferable Development Rights. This concept was designed to protect beautiful places from development, but here it’s being used to exploit the very sort of property it’s supposed to protect.Can you really make a 13,000-square-foot building invisible? It seems to me the construction site will look like Ground Zero. I wonder who got bought off there? Unfortunately everything “Aspen” eventually moves downvalley. At first it was the people, and that was OK – escaping the sinking ship and all. But then the other stuff started moving; greed saw an opportunity and moved downvalley.I don’t doubt for a second that Michael Lipkin’s original concept for the Willits project was housing for middle-income people. I thought that was fine, people have to live somewhere, and I didn’t have all that much affection for the bleak acreage that seemed to be just sitting there. As the project grew and grew, I continued to support it even though it began to look like a “Monopoly” board with far too many of those little houses and hotels. People have to live somewhere. Unfortunately at some point things changed. The out-of-control Aspen real estate market moved downvalley. All of a sudden the people who were supposed to benefit from the project couldn’t afford to buy in. A big-time developer, Joseph Freed and Associates, could, reportedly for $22 million, and now is a controlling partner. I still believe that Michael has the same genuine concern for the quality of life here in the valley that the rest of us longtime residents do. I’m not so sure about Joseph Freed and Associates. I’ve got to wonder if they give a rat’s ass about the little town of Basalt or if they just want more. Because that’s what a lot of people around here want – more, apparently because they deserve it.Aspen, Colo., is probably the only place on the planet where Paris Hilton and Britney Spears could give an ethics seminar and actually bring a little something to the table.
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Novelist John Grisham, the master of the legal thriller, is in Aspen this week to give the keynote at Tuesday’s Aspen Words Book Ball at the Hotel Jerome.