Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
July 28, 2010
It is one of the most famous gifts in history. Also one of the nastiest.I speak, of course, of the Trojan Horse.As we all remember from the “Odyssey” (um … the “Iliad” … no, wait, the “Aeneid,” that’s it – dang, high school was a long time ago), after 10 years of failing to conquer Troy, the Greeks packed up their ships and sailed away, leaving behind an enormous wooden horse. (Because only a barbarian would fail to leave a nice hostess gift after a 10-year stay.)The horse, of course, was stuffed full of Greek soldiers and, when the Trojans passed out after a night of wildly celebrating their apparent victory, the soldiers climbed out of the horse and opened the gates to let in the rest of the Greeks, who were actually hiding just around the corner.Slaughter followed. (Along with the usual rape and pillage and the total destruction of the city.)And that, of course, brings us to the latest plan for a grand new Aspen Art Museum.Now please don’t get me wrong. I think art is a peachy thing and I think art museums are glorious. (As many of you know, I was born in a broom closet at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Ah, those were the days!)And although I was strongly opposed to the plan a few years ago to build a new museum on city-owned land on Main Street, I think a museum in the heart of Aspen would be swell. Why, after all, should art be relegated to the distant plot on the damp shores of the Roaring Fork where the museum now sits? (By the way, I also support moving the Music Tent to Wagner Park. And The Aspen Institute to the Pitkin County Courthouse. Why should they be stuck way out in the middle of nowhere, beyond the barren wasteland of the West End?)But what I do object to is using the art museum as a Trojan Horse to breach the walls of Aspen’s community identity and allow a pack of sleazy hyenas – sorry, I mean, developers (hope I didn’t offend hyenas) – to run wild through the streets.With slaughter to inevitably follow.(Rape and pillage and total destruction? Well, you know how it goes.)For those who find the events of two or three years ago to be as distant as the Trojan Wars – and those who are simply befuddled by my reckless writing – allow me to explain.A couple of years ago, after a long and painful process (not as long and painful as the Trojan Wars, but damn near) the city rejected a developer’s plan for a behemoth of a building on Hyman Avenue and Spring Street.The City Council ruled that the building was too big, too bulky, too high. It would blot out the sun – or, at least, obscure the views.As is traditional in these cases, the developers shouted “Foul! We wuz robbed!” And they immediately filed a lawsuit, claiming the city had no right, had exceeded its jurisdiction, abused its discretion, committed aggravated mopery … whatever.The city won the first round, in district court. The developer appealed to the state courts. And then, a few weeks ago, after a series of secret meetings – closed to the public, closed to the press, held, most likely, in the dark – it was announced that a settlement was at hand.That settlement would create a new Aspen Art Museum on the developers’ Hyman Avenue property.And who could oppose a new art museum?What uneducated, uncultured, yabbo slob of a Philistine could possibly oppose a new art museum?Now roll that horse inside the gates and let’s party!And, just to be clear, that “party” seems to include the city fast-tracking the plan. There will be no Planning & Zoning Commission hearings. The council has already slammed through the first reading and the second reading is coming up next week. Toss in a couple of “brown bag” public chats and … there you go! The original proposal took years and years to reject; this one seems likely to be approved in a matter of weeks.The art museum gets a new building. The developers get pretty much everything they always wanted. And Aspen gets a new behemoth that is pretty much exactly as big, exactly as bulky, exactly as high as the too big, too bulky, too high building that the city rejected.Oh sure, it’s designed by a famous architect – which is nifty if you like famous architects. But that’s not the point. The point is – or was – the building itself: its size, its bulk, its height.But everyone needs ignore those little details because, you know, it’s an art museum. It’s a good thing. It’s a gift to the city.Hey! It’s a gift! So here we stand as they roll that big wooden horse through the gates.What could go wrong?Does anyone remember the Silver Lining Ranch?Come on, folks, that was just a few weeks ago.Remember? A special deal had allowed an enormous building in a residential zone – far larger than any house could have been – because that building would house a wonderful charitable organization.Then the charity left town. And now that vast building will become a single-family home. Exactly what was not allowed and never would be allowed. Except that it was.I’m not saying the new art museum will skip town. It’s backed by lots and lots of very reputable, very rich people.I’m just saying that wrapping an unacceptable proposal inside a worthy nonprofit organization doesn’t make the proposal any better.Ask any Trojan. Oh, no Trojans left? Well, gee! How did that happen?One priest outside the walls of Troy was suspicious of that wooden horse. “Beware Greeks bearing gifts,” he warned.He and his sons were immediately devoured by a pair of sea serpents. Still, I say, beware Trojan Horses. And beware developers who say they really, really just want to do something wonderful for the town.Or else they’ll sue.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.