A tenuous hold on our history | AspenTimes.com

A tenuous hold on our history

Tony Vagneur

Henceforth, the Aspen City Council can best be described as clairvoyant and provincial. In case you didn’t get the news, the council turned down the Aspen Historical Society’s request to subdivide its grounds on West Bleeker and put a conservation easement on the vacant split-off parcel, forever saving the land from development. The society planned to ease its troubled coffers by selling off the transferable development rights generated from such a subdivision. Totally legal and forthright. The historical society is hard-pressed to come up with the generous donations of other nonprofits, for several reasons, but the biggest probably being that it deals in historical facts and is not a magnet for those large money donors whose legendary need for self-aggrandizement and bootlicking from their peers is necessary for them to function. Georgia Hanson, the director, has kept the place open by being quick on her feet and thinking like a survivor, not a steamroller.Anyway, the reason the City Council turned down the subdivision request is quite unclear, mostly because it appears to have been done at a séance closed to the public, before the meeting. Mayor Klanderud and council member Rachel Richards got the communication from both Mr. and Mrs. Paepcke that they would not have wanted to develop Aspen further. It’s nice our government officials pretend they know what the Paepckes would have wanted, but basing decisions on what you think dead persons would want (or think) is pretty much like urinating into the wind – it’s an idea that’s all wet. Had they delved into the issue a little further, they might have realized that the obviously pro-growth Paepckes (and staunch nonprofit supporters) might be appalled at the narrow-minded view taken by the dissenting council members. Perhaps it escaped the purview of Klanderud, Richards and the other dissenter, Torre (who sometimes actually believes the wind whistling between his ears is wisdom), that Aspen might still be the sleepy, independent, full-of-character town it once was had it not been for the Paepckes. The growth would have found us anyway, but the Paepckes propelled Aspen down the road with dizzying, almost reckless speed. By the way, J.E. DeVilbiss, who has a reputation for smelling mendacity a mile away, apparently had a cold and took the easy way out by abstaining. The only clear-thinking council person in this dog fight, Jack Johnson, is learning the hard way that you cannot fight ignorance without the threat of economic sanctions behind you. The council, instead of allowing the Aspen Historical Society to create a conservation easement (thereby preserving the land in perpetuity), has left the door open for some ingratiating developer to burrow his way in, and in the not too distant future, forever change the grounds of the AHS. Richards seems to think that existing covenants prohibiting development will outlive political expediency, but without the aid of historical knowledge, she obviously doesn’t remember the Rubey Park debacle. Originally given to the town for open space, look at it now. Through its blatant denial of the application, the council has unwittingly aided development rather than slowed it.If we don’t back the Aspen Historical Society, and at the least stop putting up road blocks, our entire cultural heritage will be at risk, as will the bedrock upon which Aspen’s credibility stands. Without the society, we will become another run-of-the-mill suburb of Los Angeles or New York City, hanging on to the last vestiges of our rich history by a tenuous and expendable thread of our own mucus.Tony Vagneur believes history is our most valuable asset. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net