Goodbye hay bales, hello mega-mansion
“How do we design a house when we don’t know how big a house to design?”The quote above is from Stephen Smith, whose proposal to build a 15,000-square-foot house on McLain Flats was turned down last week. It sounds like Mr. Smith has a problem, so being a good Woody Creek neighbor, I’m going to help him out. This one’s free, which means it’s costing him a hell of a lot less than the advice he gets from his planners, architects and lawyers. Design a house that is no larger than 5,750 square feet.See, wasn’t that easy? The reader of this column may not know where that number came from but I’d bet a couple bucks that Mr. Smith does. It’s the maximum-size house allowed under the zoning on that piece of property. It was the law when Smith paid what I’m sure was a pretty penny for the land, and it’s the law now. Just because you can afford to buy transferable development rights (TDRs) doesn’t mean you automatically get to use them wherever you want.Mr. Smith is upset because Pitkin County won’t let him break the law. I’m simpatico; I, too, get pissed off when the bastards expect me to obey the law. Of course option B is to just build his monument to wretched excess within the city limits. The mayor will be out there in her chic black hard hat with a pick and shovel, helping to break ground. She never met a big project she didn’t like.Option C is to ask the infamous “Hopkins Avenue tree lopper” which city official he bribed in order to get off scot-free for being the biggest jerk in the city (no small achievement), and then proceed accordingly.Maybe the county should just let Mr. Smith do whatever he wants, if he can actually come up with a good reason why he needs a 15,000-square-foot house for the three weeks a year that I suspect he’ll spend in it. (Impressing his rich friends doesn’t count.) Mr. Smith contends that he needs all that square footage to accommodate grown children and grandchildren when the family gathers. Personally, I think anyone who feels he needs a 15,000-square-foot house should share a trailer with a couple of Mexican families for a few months. Perhaps he’d reassess his spatial requirements by the time he moved out. The house site in question is on the most beautiful stretch of McLain Flats Road, which means it’s one of the most spectacular views in the upper valley, maybe on the planet. The view is protected by at least two ordinances. It’s been photographed countless times, and I’ve painted it a few times. I’ve painted it on a perfect, crisp, winter afternoon; I’ve painted it at dawn with the sun just hitting the peaks, and I’ve painted it with the field full of hay bales. A really big house could be added to any of these paintings for a small fee, although I suspect the Smiths will never become customers. Oh well. There probably won’t be any more paintings or photographs soon enough.The Smiths decreased the visible height of the house by 2 feet in an effort to win over the county. The decrease in height was achieved by moving the house downhill a bit, but the fact remains that a 15,000-square-foot, single-story dwelling will look like a shopping mall. The next step will be to make the house completely invisible from the road. Obviously this is a good idea; as far as I’m concerned, all of these monstrosities should be invisible from the road. The problem is that it’s not just the house that will impact the view. What about the 10-car garage, the horse barn, the run-in shelters and other “agricultural” buildings, the indoor swimming pool, the indoor running track, the tennis courts, the casino, bowling alley and the landscaping? And don’t forget the tree-lined driveway from McLain Flats Road through the field to their little bungalow.Boogie Weinglass, who owns the adjoining property, doesn’t think there’s any problem as long as you can’t see the house from the road. Boogie’s own home is a perfect example of the problem. Drive by and take a look. It’s beautiful – the buildings, the landscaping, everything. But that’s it – you see Boogie’s house, his trees and foliage, his barns, instead of what’s beyond, the view. I like landscaping a lot, but it tends to get in the way of what’s behind it. The elk don’t much care for any of that crap. I can’t imagine that it would be possible to build anything, anywhere on Smith’s property, without some kind of visual impact.If the county continues to play hard-to-get, the final option for the Smiths will be to sue. It’s always the last option for the spoiled and wealthy. They’ll do this for a number of reasons. Their lawyer will think it’s a great idea because he’ll get richer. Their architect will think it’s a good idea because if they don’t build, he won’t get richer, and in the end, it’s probably a good idea because it often works. Of course all of this will result in costing us, Pitkin County taxpayers, money. Outside experts will have to be hired to come in and tell us that it’s a nice view, and that elk tend to coexist better with baled hay than Range Rovers and Hummers zooming up and down a driveway.I’m told that the Smiths hail from Texas and have had a second home in Aspen for some time. If the fact that their dream house is everyone else’s nightmare comes as a surprise to them, then they couldn’t have spent much time in their Cemetery Lane vacation home, and couldn’t possibly have picked up a local newspaper.They’re basically the kind of nice sensitive neighbors we’re used to here in Woody Creek.
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On this episode of The Drop-In, we’re giving you a peak at the X Games venue at Buttermilk and walking you through how things are going down this week when competition kicks off on Friday