Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I admit I’ve spent a lot of time (and ink) taking ill-considered, half-baked shots at developers.
Of course, most of the projects I’ve slammed were themselves ill-considered, half-baked and – more important – wildly destructive of the character of this little town of ours.
And, of course, as a “museum-quality liberal” (I love that tag, hung on me by a mean-spirited right-wing buddy of mine), I have long been in favor of growth-control rules and regulations.
That’s why I thought I’d take a brief moment today to say something nice (well, sort of nice) about a development and smack (perhaps too gently) some of Aspen’s growth-control run amok.
First, the developer.
The project is the renovation of an original Aspen Victorian on East Bleeker. It’s the one that you might think of as the house with the “witch’s hat,” because of the tall, pointy conical roof on a turret on the front of the house.
Many months ago, when they put up the construction fences around that wonderful little house, my heart sank.
It was one of the last “un-restored’ Victorians in town. Certainly, it had been spruced up over the years. But it had not yet been subjected to Aspenization – the process that results in so many bloated corpses that bear no resemblance to the homes they once were.
I’ve always loved that house, and I hated to think what might be about to happen to it.
I watched with trepidation as the house was jacked up and dragged across the lot to allow an enormous new concrete foundation to be poured.
I feared the worst.
But a few months ago, when the house was back on its original site and the fences came down, I was quietly amazed. Even, dare I say it, impressed.
Let’s be clear, the house is certainly not the cute little home it once was.
It has probably doubled, if not tripled, in size.
They say it has five “fabulous” bedroom suites, marble countertops, a professional-grade kitchen, a screening room and … well, you know the drill.
And the asking price is a cozy $12.5 million.
I’m looking at a realtor’s website that says I could buy it for 20 percent down and get a 30-year mortgage with monthly payments of right around $65,000. Cool! But I may hold off for now.
It’s just not my kind of place.
But from the street, it still has a lot of its old character. It doesn’t loom, it doesn’t bluster. It isn’t gawky or bloated.
They have preserved the yard on the side of the house – as they damn well ought to for 12.5 million bucks.
On its quiet East Bleeker block, it doesn’t look like a professional football player trying to sit on your grandmother’s antique Louis XV chair and sip tea from a porcelain demitasse.
They’ve done a good job of preserving its street-front character. And that’s good enough for me.
OK, I’ve praised a developer, so now let’s take a look at the massive screw-up at the Boomerang Lodge.
A screw-up caused by the city of Aspen.
Built by Charlie Paterson in the mid-’50s, the Boomerang was one of the great lodges of early ski-era Aspen.
After some 50 years on the job, Paterson sold the lodge four years ago. Almost immediately, the new owners began planning for expansion and redevelopment, and the inevitable negotiation began.
If you consider “negotiation” to mean fighting blindfolded with chainsaws while waist-deep in mud.
(Or should that be “fighting with mud while waist-deep in chainsaws”? Whatever.)
Actually, the first part of the process was undoubtedly painful, but also unavoidable. The developers wanted the most they could get; the city (and the neighbors) wanted much less of everything – height, density, rooms … you name it. Except, of course, affordable housing. They wanted more of that. Oh, and historical preservation. More of that too, please.
As I said, painful, but arguably appropriate and productive. And, anyway, that’s the way it goes.
And goes. And goes. And, unfortunately, goes.
The Boomerang was listed for sale in 2004. It sold in mid-2005. The developers battled through the approval process for a year or so and finally got City Council approval in August 2006.
And then? And then … ?
Well, not much.
The developers, their financing arranged, their approvals in hand, got a permit to demolish most of the old lodge.
They went to work with the expectation (the promise, they say) that the remaining permits would follow right along.
Except those other permits didn’t show up.
For a year.
No real reason for that, except that the city’s building department was swamped.
Slow-growth rules notwithstanding, Aspen was in the midst of a building boom and the plan-checkers just couldn’t keep up.
The planned opening of the renovated lodge was pushed back time and again, as they waited for their building permits.
And then – you know, stuff happens – the economy crashed and suddenly the permits were irrelevant, because the construction loans had faded away.
Just this week, the city, in all its gracious wisdom, gave the developers an extension of their right to build, because all those precious approvals were about to expire.
And here’s the punch line: When a city councilman asked if the city was at fault for the delays, the city attorney advised that it would be best for that question to remain unanswered.
Because – obviously and of course – the city was to blame.
And a true answer could have been very expensive.
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