‘White Shirts’ plan to ‘fight to the death’
The “We (heart) Aspen” “White Shirts” are not a one-night stand. The White Shirts spontaneously coalesced Monday night in response to a letter to the editor from Les Holst regarding overdevelopment. The loose group plans to push its agenda until it becomes part of the city’s philosophy, according to group guru/nonleader Holst.”We are not going away,” Holst said Wednesday.In the letter, Holst called for Aspen’s “silent majority” to come together at Monday’s City Council meeting to ” … let them know there really are people here who care about this community. Let them know that the Aspen history and historic presence is what drives both the living community and the commercial-tourist presence also.”Holst, who has lived in Aspen for 20 years, considered the letter a challenge to people who are sick and tired of all the construction within the city. About 40 people showed up.In preparation for the council meeting, Holst ordered 150 “We (heart) Aspen” T-shirts from a company in Denver. The T-shirts arrived two days later – just in time for Monday’s council meeting. Holst said he has already given away 75 of those shirts, and he has ordered 200 more in preparation for what he says is a large grass-roots movement ready to go toe to toe with a City Council he says has “no evident passion” or “moral rudder” for its job.”This City Council never has had a basis for making their decisions,” Holst said. “There are a lot of us who hate what they are allowing to happen in this city we love.”
“Not everyone in our group agrees on all the issues,” Holst said. “I did not know in advance what people would be saying, but one thing led to another.”The White Shirts are demanding the city: Establish a six-month moratorium on building permits in all historic areas. Immediately remove the infill ordinance for the commercial core historic area. Remove ordinances allowing lot splits on historic properties. Adopt a policy calling for no more removal of properties from the historic inventory. Any Historic Preservation Commission member who brings a project before the HPC shall be off the board for six months, or the life of the project, to eliminate conflicts of interest. Establish a moratorium on hiring new city employees for one year.
Holst also recommended establishing an ad hoc committee that would assist City Council in its quest to deal with growth.”We elect a City Council to take care of the city,” Holst said Wednesday. “This council is not taking care of the city. It’s taking care of the developers. Developers do not come here because they love us. They come here because we are easy. And our town staff is making us even easier.”Holst does not believe his group will ever become formalized in any way.”I don’t know if we’ll ever have an official name,” he said. “We likely won’t incorporate or elect officers, but I do think we’ll establish an e-mail list and keep in touch about the issues. We will be ready to mobilize.”Holst also plans to start purchasing newspaper advertisements to alert the public about hot-button issues that need fist-shaking people power.”There are two meetings set next week, for example,” he said. “On Monday, the HPC has a joint work session with the council, and on Wednesday, the HPC will talk about the demolition of the Cooper Street Pier. We will fight to the death on those and other issues.”Ann Wycoff, a psychologist who has lived in Aspen off and on for 30 years, will establish a group website, http://www.iloveaspen.org, that could be running as soon as Monday.”We will include different issues, times and dates of various meetings and hearings that we ought to involve ourselves in, as well as appropriate editorials,” Wycoff said.Wycoff said she is involved with the White Shirts because, “It’s been hard to watch the changes that have occurred here in the last 30 years. This used to be a town of activists, but a lot of the activists have moved downvalley. We need to provide a focal point and energy for a new generation of activists in Aspen. I think there are more people who are opposed to the development mania here than who support it. We need to give those people a voice.”
Among the most high-profile members of the group is former Mayor Bill Stirling.”There is a lot of frustration here,” Stirling said Wednesday. “We have had people who have worked very hard on issues, only to have their efforts overturned or ignored by the city government.”Stirling feels that the city staff, rather then the City Council, has become Aspen’s lead decision-making entity.”We are at the point now where the council serves more as a board of directors that rubber-stamps proposals submitted to it by the city staff,” Stirling said. “I don’t see a clear philosophy or vision statement on the part of the council.”He said the group will focus on six things: balancing the goals of the town with the goals of the resort, preserving all Victorian architecture no matter how much it has been changed, reducing the size of government, maintaining and protecting the village scale, not over-reacting to pressure from developers, and always protecting and nurturing sense of community.”We need to begin this process of reclaiming the city of Aspen by reclaiming and redefining our government and our government’s role,” Stirling said. “First, we need to drastically reduce the size of our city government.””Right now, they’re telling us we need even more government employees, so we can handle the development application load,” Holst said. “That’s the last thing we need.”Even though the White Shirts have no official philosophy writ in stone, and even though the group is not officially organized, Holst feels strongly that it will serve as a catalyst for significant local change.”We aren’t going to take this any more,” Holst said. “This is still one of the most wonderful places on earth, but, if we don’t act now to counter the actions of our city government and our development community, we are going to lose this place. I think we can save it. And I’m going to fight until we do.”
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