Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw |

Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Monday night, the City Council wisely voted that it was collectively brain-dead and so the massive Lift One project is on hold once again.

(And “massive” is both exactly the right word to describe the project and a word whose use was harshly criticized by someone who supports the project. But more on that later.)

You certainly have to admire the courage of the developers. To push ahead with a half-billion-dollar project in these troubled times, you must be brave. Or loony. But let’s say “brave.”

And to push ahead with that project in a ski resort in an era when the future of snow is in doubt … well, let’s say “brave” again.

And to push ahead with a 300,000-square-foot project in a town with an avowed tilt toward growth control and a mountain o’ regulations that would probably exceed 300,000 square feet if all those pages of rules were laid end to end … well, let’s go for “brave” one more time.

So, no matter how anyone might feel about the project itself, we salute the few, the brave, the developers. Huzzah!

And now let’s hope that the City Council can show similar courage.

Because it won’t be easy for the council to do the right thing on this puppy ” no matter whether the right thing happens to be approving it or rejecting it.

The council is in for a veritable storm of feces flinging no matter which way it votes.

If the council says yes, it will almost certainly face a referendum to overturn that approval (and maybe recall everyone who voted for it).

And if the council gives the plan a thumbs-down, well, the result will probably be the same ” except the recall will be for those who voted no.

Step right up! Do the right thing! Get smacked in the head! Fun for all!

The hidden blessing is that, in a no-win situation, you might as well try to actually make the right choice. The tricky part, of course, is figuring out what the right thing might be.

What’s best for Aspen? Not best for the developers ” brave though they may be, they’re in it for the profit. They’re looking out for themselves. The council has to look out for Aspen.

One thing we hear is that if the council doesn’t approve this project, we’re going to get new developers who could be harder to deal with.

Maybe. But right now we’ve got developers who bought into a mighty pricey real estate market. They’ve got a lot of money invested and they need a massive (there’s that word again) project to make a profit.

But if they get shot down, the value of that land is likely to take a big slide (like the big mud slide that could carry that entire part of town into the middle of Wagner Park

some day ” but never mind that).

After all, real estate prices are heading down already and if the city were to reject this project you’d think that would put an even bigger dent in the property value.

So maybe the next set of developers won’t need to go quite so big to make a profit.

I’m not saying the city should risk a reckless rejection and bet on falling real estate values to bring a less ambitious proposal. I just think that’s a scenario that’s every bit as likely as getting new developers from the Russian mafia who’ll start breaking legs and kidnapping wives and children until they get approval for a 60-story, 3,000-room hotel.

No way of telling. So the council simply has to screw its courage to the sticking point, as the fella says, and do the right thing.

Of course, another improbable impediment to figuring out what the right thing might be is the Citizen Task Force that spent the past six months hammering out this plan.

I know, I know. Citizen Task Forces are made up of deeply concerned, public-spirited people who deserve only praise for their willingness to sacrifice time and brain cells in an effort to create a plan that is the best it can be.

That’s actually true.

And yet, as they say, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. And “task force” is just a fancy name for a committee.

We are reminded constantly that the task force spent “a collective 2,000 hours” working on the plan.

That’s a big number. I truly do salute their effort.

But (sorry) when you divide that 2,000 hours by the 27 task force members and the six months they spent working on the plan, you come up with about three hours per person per week.

On one hand, that’s a significant amount of time for an unpaid, public-spirited citizen to devote to a project like this.

On the other hand (sorry again), it’s really not a lot of time for non-professionals planning the biggest project in the history of the city.

And, as Aspen Times columnist Roger Marolt pointed out (now I’m hiding behind Roger), the dedicated ordinary citizens tend to get pushed around a little (have their options unfairly narrowed, shall we say) by the developers and elected officials who join in the meetings.

Again, those citizens aren’t wimps, fools or pushovers ” but neither are they full-time experts who can stand up to the big guys.

And so you wind up with a plan that’s got a built-in constituency of semi-sainted citizens who voted almost unanimously to enter their camel in the Kentucky Derby ” and bet our collective ranch on it.

And if you don’t agree with that thought, let’s take a moment to look back to the beginning of this column where I talked about someone getting nasty when a newspaper headline referred to the project as “massive.”

That “someone” was a member of the task force ” and he was too emotionally attached to the plan to even accept the obvious: 300,000 square feet, way over the city’s height limit, stores and restaurants, a museum and a 500-car underground parking garage.

Love it or hate it, that’s massive.

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