Is Aspen’s development boom nearly over?
Back when it was still funny, we joked about Aspen continually changing with banter like, “Any idea when Aspen is going to be finished? I thought they’d be done already.” Hahaha!
I remember moving into our new house in one of Aspen’s first developments that pushed the town boundaries and created a completely new neighborhood. It was 1969 and I proudly proclaimed that I now lived in West Aspen Subdivision, not clear what that important-sounding name meant. Ours was one of the first houses out there. It was country living at its finest despite a profound lack of trees. I could see Basalt Mountain 14 miles away from my bedroom window. When it got socked in with clouds, I knew a snowstorm was imminent.
Today that area is known as Cemetery Lane and is part of town. We never liked the cemetery reference, so we called it Snowbunny, after a critical mass of kids moved in and we needed a reference for the name of our baseball team — The Snowbunny Sluggers. After the Conner boys moved next door and joined the Clappers, Stapletons, Taches and us, the West End Aspen team was never again a threat. The rivalry ended a short time later when a house went up the vacant lot they used as their field.
The first actual new neighborhood of Aspen was probably Mountain Valley. There were a few houses up there in the sticks before the West Aspen Subdivision was staked out with surveyors’ tape, but the latter became immediately popular and new homes went up quickly. The nine-hole municipal golf course was a big reason. Even in the old days people liked open space, although some, I’m sure, second-guessed its value when gophers overran the fairways and started dying from bubonic plague. They had to close it and dust it with poison and reminded us to keep our doors and windows closed when the wind picked up.
After that, things got rolling. They built the new ballpark on top of the old dump and then the new high school and, a few years later, the new middle school went up across the street. Suddenly the Meadowood neighborhood was attractive and it was built out quickly.
The county government seemed much more important than the city. Most of the development was going on just outside the city limits. They built new subdivisions at Brush Creek and Shied-o-mesa. They plopped in Eagle Pines above Buttermilk and the Grand Champions Club below it. Then came Wildcat Ranch, Star Mesa and Stillwater. Snowmass built Horse Ranch, Two Creeks, The Pines and The Divide. They squeezed in a few smallish projects like the ones on West Hopkins Avenue and over by the Aspen Club, which were within the boundaries of Aspen proper, but the others were so much bigger that few noticed.
Then something funny happened: they pretty much stopped building subdivisions in the Aspen area. They ran out of room! With not a lot of new dirt to turn over, but still with plenty of money and ambition, speculators began the era of scrape and replace.
This continues today, but it was worse 20 years ago. There were more older houses and they were bulldozing precious things like the Paepcke House and my boyhood home in the shadow of Shadow Mountain. Now so much of the good stuff is already gone that our biggest complaints are over noise and dust.
The latest development craze had to do with topping every single commercial building in downtown Aspen with a penthouse. This may cause you to think that now the sky is the limit for development. But it isn’t.
While it is conceivable that a future City Council could get fooled again and raise the height limits on downtown buildings, our saving grace might be that current penthouse owners won’t stand for it. Many are purchasing their lofty pads with contractual protection against development above them — they are buying sky rights!
Maybe penthouses are the last phase of Aspen’s 50-year development boom. Construction seems ubiquitous at the moment, but I think that is an illusion as a lot of it is happening in the center of town and that concentrates and magnifies everything related to it from visual intrusion to the resultant traffic. Perhaps what real estate brokers have been telling potential buyers for decades — that there are limits to how much can be built in Aspen — is actually, possibly, maybe true. So, now, when will Aspen really be finished?
Roger Marolt says “look out below!” Downvalley is where the development is now. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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