Carroll: It doesn’t take a penthouse to raise a family |

Carroll: It doesn’t take a penthouse to raise a family

If John Denver were still alive, he’d need to change the lyrics to “Rocky Mountain High” in order to reflect the times in Aspen.

Rather than waxing that “Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes,” Denver could croon about the musicians and bars in conflict with the penthouse owners above them.

Bleak was never Denver’s style. However, that seems to be the climate of downtown Aspen these days, at least when it comes to the very vitality the city leaders have been promoting over the years. And the feud over what’s an acceptable noise level will only heat up unless the city decides to raise its 65-decibel limit.

For now, downtown penthouse owners have the city ordinance on their side when it comes to forcing their downstairs neighbors to turn down the volume.

But one has to wonder what’s so enticing about raising a family in a penthouse located in the heart of Aspen’s nightlife scene, with the expectations that there won’t be any noise or disruptions.

It’s no different from living next to a ballpark and complaining about the stray home-run balls that land in your parking lot.

I personally don’t have anything against penthouses. Really, who has that kind of time? Even so, it’s one thing to be single or in your party years and live downtown. And it’s also the would-be Aspen homeowners’ decision to spend their money how they please.

But if I had $5 million or $20 million at my disposal to buy a home in the Aspen area, a downtown penthouse would be at the bottom of the list. Instead, I’d seek some solitude by throwing down my millions on a ranch house in Woody Creek or Old Snowmass, or even the West End, thereby increasing the sleepy neighborhood’s year-round population by a good 10 percent.

Fantasy aside, my family lives in a charmingly modest townhouse, seven blocks outside the downtown core, with 14 units. Like any densely populated complex, there are occasional disagreements between neighbors that are typically ironed out among ourselves. But closer downtown in Aspen, it seems that an increasing number of spats over noise end up in court.

The differences also highlight the paradox in which we live. Aspen tries to fuel the image that it’s not just a town for the retired and uber-wealthy but also a place for the young, hip, creative and athletic.

The bar-music-versus-serene-penthouse-living in downtown Aspen punctuates the conflict between the two sets. And it’s the penthouse owners who wield major influence — they do have the decibel limit on their side — on how downtown restaurants and bars behave. Perhaps the solution to this problem would be the creation of a downtown penthouse district that would be devoid of restaurants and bars. Like that’s going to happen.

But another nearby neighborhood offering as much peace and quiet as a family could ask for comes to mind. It’s called Red Mountain.

Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at

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