Andy Stone: A Stone’s throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
So it seems that Aspen is about to be inundated by a wave of uncontrolled development. A tsunami of tsuris.
And this time, we are being told, the people to blame are not the developers who seek to create ever-taller buildings in hope of attaining ever-taller stacks of money.
No, of course not.
The culprits in this latest development debacle, the obvious culprits – the evil weasels, the fools at fault – are the three councilmen who tried to prevent it from happening.
Check your score sheets:
• The three who tried to stop the outrage: bad guys.
• The two councilmen whose votes let it happen: innocent as hell.
• The developers themselves: victims of circumstance.
In case you’ve been asleep – as certain council members seem to have been – it all began with a bursting pustule of local outrage over a spate of outrageously tall downtown buildings. (No need to wade back into the vile swamps of those events – except perhaps to note that if it took Jesus to chase the moneylenders out of the Temple and Joshua to topple the walls of Jericho, then it is apparently going to take an act of God to do something about that desecration known as the new Aspen Art Museum. So, come on, Jehovah! We’re counting on you.)
Anyway, realizing there is no limit (height-wise or otherwise) to greed, the City Council began to see that only actual legal limits would stop the development of even more of the damnable buildings that threaten to block out the sun.
And so, Councilman Torre (who eschews a last name but might be trying to qualify for the sobriquet Torre the Fearless or even, egads, Torre the Wise) suggested an ordinance limiting downtown building heights to 28 feet.
That would effectively bar third stories and their “penthouse condominiums.” In effect, it would have prevented the excrescence of an art museum and whatever the hell it is that the Developer Who Must Not Be Named is putting up next to the Benton Building and Little Annie’s.
But – and here’s the tricky part – Torre the Wise realized what would happen once the prospect of a height limitation was mentioned. The Four Developers of the Apocalypse (OK, there are a lot more than four of them) would rush to pile up applications, $1,000 bills and lawyers to whatever dizzying heights were necessary to beat the deadline before the new law went into effect.
And so Torre the Fearless wanted to pass his height limitation as an emergency ordinance. The “emergency” designation meant it would go into effect immediately and block the apocalyptic greed rush.
But two “wiser” councilmen pooh-poohed the idea that there could be an “emergency.”
They insisted that planning must be done slowly, with all kinds of careful consideration and consultation and negotiation – to make sure no one’s feelings (or bank balances) are damaged. (Then the new law could win the coveted seal: “No developers were harmed in the creation of this ordinance.”)
Now let’s take a moment here to recognize that there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady approach. Don’t rush into major decisions, such as marriage, war or zoning.
But we must remember two other things:
1. The current height limits – which now seem bizarrely stupid – were put in place after a long and careful planning process (one which, as I recall, began with a consultant who said it was absurd for Aspen to cling to a pointless desire to actually see the mountains from downtown). In other words, spending a lot of time on decisions doesn’t guarantee good decisions. It only guarantees that a lot of time will be spent.
2. The damnable greed rush (see above). That rush was absolutely predictable. Suggest growth control, and the result is like a shark attack in a kiddie pool full of plucked chickens: Blood and body parts go everywhere.
Or, as Shakespeare said, “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war.” (Just thought I’d raise the tone a bit. You’re welcome.)
So now, thanks to the two councilmen who voted against the emergency ordinance, we are having that thoughtful planning process – which will result in carefully thought-out ordinances that will be carefully and thoughtfully applied to whatever scraps are left unravaged in downtown.
Sort of like calling in Mario Batali to whip up a delicious dinner with whatever is leftover when the sharks get done with that kiddie pool full of chickens.
And yet, some people are saying the blame for the mess should go to the councilmen who dared to bring up the topic of height limitations in the first place.
If they hadn’t raised the subject, we wouldn’t have gotten the greed rush. Sure, we would have had all the tall buildings … but more slowly.
By that same logic, we could wipe out crime simply by not passing any laws. No laws = no crimes. Plus, no crimes = no criminals. If you never make murder against the law … shazam! No murderers!
Boy, that was easy!
The facts are simple.
If you are going to propose any kind of greed control – I mean, growth control – you need to take steps to block the greed rush. A moratorium, an emergency ordinance, a moat full of crocodiles – whatever it takes.
It is easier to amend a bad ordinance than to tear down a bad building.
And, just for the record, I don’t actually blame the developers.
Greed is a natural part of the human condition – just like bubonic plague. You don’t “blame” people with the plague. They’re just victims. And you do whatever you can, whatever you must, to avoid their deadly contagion.
The greedy are no more to “blame” than those sharks in the kiddie pool.
But the people who refused to stock up on shark repellent. Or refused to call Shark Be-Gone. Well, make no mistake, they deserve our condemnation.
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