Michael Cleverly: Cleverly or Not | AspenTimes.com

Michael Cleverly: Cleverly or Not

Michael Cleverly
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

The Woody Creek Caucus is pitching a fit because the Aspen School District has proposed to build teacher housing in Woody Creek against existing county codes.

As a Woody Creeker, I must say I’m impressed by the Caucus’ newfound zeal regarding land-use codes. I only wish caucus members had felt the same way some time ago when the Smith family was proposing its “invisible house” on McLain Flats, the project that has turned one of the most spectacular views in the valley into a construction site for more than a year now.

For those of you with short memories, the summer before last the Smiths proposed building a 13,000 square-foot house on a piece of land zoned for a 5,000 square-foot single-family dwelling. If memory serves, it would have required three transferrable development rights (TDRs) to swell the allowable square footage to that which the Smiths thought they needed to get through the day. At the time, county Hearing Officer Jim True was quoted in the local press as saying that, because of the extreme sensitivity of the area ” the view, the nature of the neighborhood, wildlife habitat ” he was “disinclined to allow the use of even one TDR” on the project. At the same time a planning and zoning official told me that, in addition to the zoning restrictions, the view was protected by “at least two county ordinances.”

In other words, the project was completely illegal and all that had to happen to keep it from going forward was, basically, to do nothing ” simply insist that existing zoning and ordinances be observed. It was also pretty clear that everyone in the community who wasn’t associated with the project absolutely hated the idea of this house.

Well, the Smiths and their posse, a team of about a dozen builders, architects, developers, lawyers, etc., had a meeting with the Woody Creek Caucus planning committee on the patio at the Tavern and, somehow, unbelievably, came out of it with the committe’s endorsement. An endorsement without which, I am convinced, the project never could have gone forward. As we speak, a house the size of a small shopping mall is under construction on McLain Flats.

Fast forward. Last Tuesday, Jan. 6, the Aspen Daily News carried a piece with the headline, “Woody Creek to school district: Respect the code.” The night before, Superintendent Diana Sirko had gone before the caucus explaining that the School District wanted to build 11 rental units for teachers on a site already occupied by 22 such units. While the existing code does not allow for these proposed new residences, the school district is exempt from compliance to the local codes and is beholden to a larger entity, the state.

Sirko stated that the district has an extremely hard time recruiting and keeping teachers because of the housing situation in the valley, and the district has no other appropriate place to build. Caucus members dug in their collective heels, deeply offended by the idea of someone wanting to circumnavigate existing codes. Apparently they never met a multimillionaire they didn’t like, but can’t abide the idea of a few more teachers sleazing around the neighborhood. We all know what scumbags teachers are.

Ann Owsley, speaking for the caucus planning committee, reportedly suggested that their stance was for the good, not only of the community but for the entire county. “If your intention is to ram this down our throats and the throats of Pitkin County,” she apparently said, “we are going to ask the county to fight you.” (At this point I’ll add that I was sitting at the next table when the Smith group met with the planning committee on the tavern patio that summer and I didn’t observe anything being rammed down anyone’s throat.)

Another objection to the teacher housing was that the existing units are unsightly “monopoly houses,” a characterization I agree with, although having seen the places a number of the more obstreperous caucus members call home, I’m a little puzzled at their eagerness to cast stones.

It seems to me that if the caucus wanted to do what was best for everyone, they’d let the school district build the new units under the condition that they budgeted whatever it takes to landscape the whole shooting match. Bring it up to Woody Creek standards, if such a thing exists. The school district owns the land and it desperately needs teacher housing.

As far as I’m concerned, all projects built by the city, county or any other public entity should conform to the aesthetics of the area where they are located. I realize that landscaping is expensive and affordable housing must be built on the cheap, but being a good neighbor shouldn’t be an option. It should go without saying, whatever the cost.

Once upon a time, the Woody Creek Caucus was a powerful and respected entity, forward-thinking and fair, and the people who made up that body were definitely not petty, self-serving, wannabes. That seems like a very long time ago and greatly removed from the current group, which has proved itself grossly incompetent at something as simple as being NIMBYs.

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