New hopes for a happy ending at the W/J Ranch
This past week, Aspen and Pitkin County have been the recipients of some truly good news – John Musick has sold his interest in the W/J Ranch.
Whether the new owners will be any more realistic in their plans for the troubled ranch remains to be seen, but the sale alone is a hopeful note.
It was announced this week that Lowe Enterprises, Inc., a California development firm, has assumed Musick’s outstanding debts against the W/J Ranch, and has taken control of the ranch for a reported price of $20 million.
There remain some questions about this purchase, including a certain skepticism that any development company worth its salt would let itself be roped into paying $20 million for a 112-acre parcel of ground located 10 miles from Aspen, from a seller with a history of such poor relations with the local government.
But be that as it may, we can only hope that sale will signal the end of John Musick’s underhanded, cruel campaign of manipulation aimed at our desperate local working population, and his seemingly nonstop efforts to undermine both the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners.
For years, Musick has reveled in his Don Quixote-like role, making wild claims about his rights as a landowner and his virtue as a champion of the working class, all the while using the local courts in a campaign to bully the government into giving him what he wanted.
At one point he claimed to have the legal right to develop more than 2,000 homes on the ranch, declared his intention to do just that if denied permission to build 778 homes, and filed legal actions against the county when the denial was handed down.
His constant badgering of the county was certainly a nerve-wracking experience for the commissioners themselves, as well as for the community at large, adding to an atmosphere of discontent that scarcely needed any such boost.
Yet, even as Musick proclaimed his dedication to the cause of affordable housing for the working class, his dealings with the families living in the 60 or so affordable housing units that already exist at the ranch were unfortunate, to say the least. Residents accused him of not completing promised improvements, and there were allegations of improper business dealings between him and certain home buyers.
But worst of all was the manipulative posturing he did in an attempt to win popular support for his schemes.
When the county proved too tough a nut for him to crack, he made public pledges of free land to anyone who would sign up for a home at his proposed development.
This transparent ruse was intended to give him a small army of backers who could put popular pressure on the county for approval of his development schemes, and bolster his self-proclaimed image as a champion of the common people.
But when the promised deeds failed to materialize, so did his army of backers. As for his image, it never has really risen above that of a rather desperate schemer who listens to his own propaganda more than anything else.
It is to be hoped that the new owners of the ranch will be more reasonable in their approach to building affordable housing on the land. For it is evident that some level of development at the ranch is, if not altogether desirable, at least worthy of consideration in light of the continuing housing crisis.
This newspaper has long campaigned for a policy of keeping growth close to the existing urban center of Aspen, rather than creating satellite communities that only foster an ever-greater reliance on the private automobile.
But, given the fact that the upper valley is in desperate need of additional housing, and there already exists a community of working people at W/J, it may be that a sharply limited development proposal will be acceptable to the community at large.
We can only hope that the new owners will take a different approach to the serious business at hand. We’ve had enough displays of arrogance, animosity and intransigence to last us for the century about to begin.
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