Where are the White Shirts?

Abigail EagyeAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN Almost a year ago, historic preservationist Les Holst helped bring the community together with a simple mission and a simple garment: white T-shirts.But since the City Council implemented a building moratorium April 25 of last year, the White Shirts, who originally made an impression by turning out in large numbers, dwindled to the occasional handful of white specks at city meetings, and they haven’t been spotted at all of late.But that doesn’t mean they’ve been blotted out.According to Holst and several other locals who donned the familiar “I (heart) Aspen” T-shirts, the group has already achieved its mission – to send a message to the council that citizens are fed up with the pace of construction in Aspen. Or was it the quality of new development? Or the loss of historic landmarks?Holst says the group’s members have a wide range of hot-button issues, and it wasn’t necessarily any one point they rallied around. He doubts everyone who ever suited up in one of his T-shirts would agree on all topics, but all had reached a breaking point in feeling as if they were losing the Aspen they loved.Even if there’s still work to be done, Holst says the White Shirts have already succeeded.”My basic feeling is we did accomplish what we needed to, because the shift in the City Council has been radical,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see the council granting variances to as many developments as it once did.

Holst says the White Shirts had four or five major goals when they first descended en masse upon the council last year, and they achieved the major one: the building moratorium.The moratorium has offered a reprieve of sorts for anyone with concerns related to construction in Aspen.But that could change, depending on what the council decides to do next.The moratorium – the first of two the city has implemented in the past year – is set to expire at the end of May. The council hopes to finish drafting any new codes by the middle of April and to begin taking public comments shortly thereafter.Several one-time White Shirts say they’re ready to make a sartorial statement again, if necessary.”You can’t have an opinion until you know what the results are,” said David McClure, an art director for a local magazine who wore a White Shirt in the days leading up to the moratorium. And if those results don’t meet his expectations, McClure said he’ll likely be back before the council, either as an individual or as part of the White Shirts.”You follow what’s happening, and if the situation suggests that opinions are required to focus the debate, then people take action,” he said.

McClure said he doesn’t think the White Shirts have been active in an obvious way since last year because it’s such a loose affiliation and people with a range of concerns.”There weren’t more organized battles to be fought specifically,” he said.But he agreed the group already achieved success simply “in raising the agenda.””The White Shirts represented a tipping point in that they represented the ‘I’ve had enough’ element of the grass-roots citizenship,” he said.Local Jon Busch put on a White Shirt last year because, he said, “the local flavor [in Aspen] is disappearing.”Busch, too, thinks the group has already achieved its first major mission.”You could say that the White Shirts have had some success, because council has enacted the moratorium and is creating new rules,” he said, adding that he can’t comment on how good the new codes will be because he hasn’t seen them yet. “But clearly the White Shirts were heard.”Like McClure, Busch says he’ll likely be back to bend the council’s collective ear if the new code isn’t up to snuff.

“If there are problems with what they’re proposing, then the White Shirts will be out,” he said.White shirt or no, Holst says the concerned citizen’s work is never finished. People don’t have to come to the meetings, he said, but they do need to make their feelings known to council members by calling, writing or by any means necessary.”There’s a responsibility to living in this community, and everyone at some time or another has to stand up for what they believe and make their voices heard,” he said. “Otherwise, we get what we deserve.”When the council puts forth new codes and begins taking public comment, he said, it’s imperative the whole community review the changes.”Everybody has to do it,” he said. “It’s incredibly important, because it will determine the future of Aspen.”Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is


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