‘Party pool’ project violates a community trust | AspenTimes.com

‘Party pool’ project violates a community trust

John Colson

This is the second time Jonathan Lewis has run up against public ire in Aspen, and the only surprise is that he didn’t learn his lesson the first time.Or maybe he did, I don’t know. He might like being publicly flagellated, I understand some people go in for that sort of thing.Public derision, as readers may or may not be aware, is what Lewis has brought on himself by proposing to build what some are unplayfully calling a “party pool” perched on the bluff overlooking Hallam Lake.Actually, it’s not the pool itself that is the sole target of local rage, it’s the transparent “canopy” that would loom over the pool and the bluff, like some eerily illuminated guardian glaring at the hoi polloi below.This “canopy” would protect a stairwell leading up from a subterranean tunnel to the poolside terrace. That’s right – a tunnel will lead bathers from the basement of what once was the old Paepcke home on First Street out to the stairwell and hence to the “party pool.”But back for a moment to the house. The demolition of the Paepcke home was the first occasion that brought Lewis to the attention of various socialistic pundits, political pugilists and verbal gunslingers back in the late 1990s. Just to remind you, Lewis and a partner bought the old Paepcke home after Aspen’s modern-day matriarch, Elizabeth “Pussy” Paepcke, died.I can’t recall whether Lewis made any preservationist noises at that time, but all of a sudden it came out that he planned to demolish the old house and put up a monument to, well, we never could figure out what. Some parts of the old manse apparently are still there, but you’d be hard-pressed to identify them, much less point them out to a curious visitor.And, because our local historical guardians ruled that the house had been altered so many times it had little intrinsic historic value, it was all done in the blink of an eye. This left local history buffs to wonder what the payoff was, and how such a travesty could have happened in a town that claims to take pride in its history.But that, as they say, is all past us now.Except that the arrogance and lack of community comprehension that characterized the demolition of the house, without even a personal acknowledgment by Lewis of the pain it caused, seems still to be the ruling emotion of the household.At least that’s how it looks from my chair.Now, I must admit here that some feel Lewis isn’t really a bad sort, though perhaps a little misguided.For example, he is known to be a supporter of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which has carefully tiptoed at the edges of this fight despite the fact ACES is charged with protection of the Hallam Lake legacy.And he has given money to other local causes. The Sustainable Settings agricultural and educational outfit near Carbondale consider him a “sustaining donor” who helps remind local citizens, ranchers and governments that economic and environmental sustainability are both integral to our future.OK, fine. Lewis can be a swell guy when it comes to high-flown intellectual undertakings. And since he’s apparently got more money that Croesus ever dreamed of (he’s said to be a scion of the Progressive Insurance fortune), he can well afford to be generous to his chosen causes.But this is not a high-flown philosophical discussion here; it’s a little more earthy. We’ve got dainty bathers, who want protection from the elements while ambling to the pool, versus a populace outraged by the violation of a sacred trust.We’re talking about a community treasure that is rare for its location as well as its avocation. It’s in the middle of town. Kids go there to learn about nature. Visitors enjoy its serenity. Naturalists use it to study how nature and civilization interact.None of these users want to hear the raucous sounds of an Aspen party at its zenith rolling down the slopes from the West End, or to see the illuminated “canopy” looming at the edge of the bluff. Why not just put the pool next to the house and eliminate the need for tunnel and canopy?The city attorney is looking into how much leeway the local P&Z has in considering Lewis’ development proposal. And, likely as not, he’ll come back with some softly-worded way of saying the city has no choice: It must approve the project if it conforms with the laws governing the “Enviromentally Sensitive Area” that envelopes the lake and borders the Lewis property.If that is his conclusion, it must be asked, what about the INTENT of the lawmakers who drew up this ordinance? Were they not trying to protect this precious bit of woodsiness and water from urban encroachment? Were they not trying to fend off the more grotesque effronteries proposed by people with too much time and money who think they can ride roughshod over the sense and sensibilities of the rest of us?Simply put, what about what’s RIGHT?John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com

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