Masters of our domain
The term “master plan” frightens us for two reasons. First, it smacks of Big Brother-style control and domination. Second, especially when it comes from a government entity, it’s pretty much synonymous with long meetings, red tape and extreme boredom.
So we have to swallow hard to endorse Mayor Mick Ireland’s proposal to create a master plan for the neighborhood at the base of Lift 1A, the western base of Aspen Mountain. In the end, however, it’s a smart move for the city, property owners on South Aspen Street and the Aspen Skiing Co.
First, because the recent controversy over the Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposal showed us just how divided this town is when it comes to growth and development. During the months that the lodge spent in front of the Aspen City Council, the letters to the editor in both local newspapers were dominated by arguments for and against the mammoth project, Aspen’s first new hotel since the Ritz-Carlton (now the St. Regis) in the early 1990s. In the end, a divided council rejected the lodge after some four years of city review.
Whatever side you’re on, this so-called process (prolonged train wreck?) was a great waste of time and money. A master-planning effort holds the promise of consensus on the future of Ajax’s original base area, the place where skiing began in Aspen.
Which brings us to the second reason to pursue a master plan: This place is important to Aspen, both historically and economically, and it’s arguably the last location in town where such a dramatic commercial and physical overhaul is expected. If it’s done correctly, Aspen stands to benefit both culturally and economically; if it remains mired in controversy, we’ll end up with vacant high-end townhomes and lost opportunities.
That said, there’s a fly in the ointment here. The developers of the Lift One Lodge, proposed for the site where the Holland House and Skiers Chalet now sit, already have their redevelopment application before the city. They’ve passed muster at the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission; they’re in the sixth inning of this game, and we doubt they’re eager to forfeit and join hands with the city in a master-planning effort.
However, given what happened to the lodge across the street, rescheduling might be a good idea. Certainly it’s better than a rejection, which in the current political climate the Council seems likely to dish out.
A master planning effort for South Aspen Street would have been a better idea several years ago when it became clear that major changes were on the horizon. But down the road, it makes sense for Aspen. We hope all the stakeholders will carefully consider Ireland’s suggestion, which he plans to lay out at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association meeting on Oct. 30.
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.