Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 3, 2010
Three stories, three quotes. Let’s start with the quotes:
1. “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” – unnamed U.S. officer during the Vietnam War
2. “Beep, beep!” – the Road Runner
3. “There goes the wapiti / Hippity-hoppity.” – Ogden Nash
First up: Destroying things in order to save them.
We’re talking, of course, about the Aspen City Council’s decision to destroy the Aspen Area Community Plan in order to save it.
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That destroy-to-save moment came when the council approved the new Aspen Art Museum building in the heart of downtown.
Here’s the heart of what happened: The council rejected a developer’s plan because the building was too damn big under the terms of the Community Plan; the developer sued, arguing that the Community Plan was not a legitimate legal basis for the decision; the city surrendered and approved the building, saying that if they’d lost in court, that would have destroyed the Community Plan as a legal basis for decisions.
Now, I know I’m not as bright as the smart guys on the council, but it seems to me that by abandoning the lawsuit, they’ve already destroyed the Community Plan as a legal basis for their decisions.
They’ve admitted they don’t have much faith in the strength of their case (despite having won the first round in court), and they’ve made it clear that they’ll cave if they’re sued.
Aspen planning director Chris Bendon was quoted as saying the lawsuit “directly challenges the city’s ability to use the AACP in the way we’ve been accustomed to.”
As will the next lawsuit. And the one after that.
And now everyone knows that the city will either cave and settle or … what? Or nothing, that’s what. Case closed.
And that brings us to our next quote: “Beep, beep!”
That is the famous call of the Road Runner, just before he flattens Wile E. Coyote – except today we’re talking about flattened Wyly Coyotes.
I speak, of course, of Sam and Charles Wyly, a couple of our local billionaires who were perhaps flattened (and, if so, perhaps only temporarily) by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC charged the Wylys with fraud, insider trading and assorted other violations of federal laws on their merry way to about half a billion dollars in profits. (I believe I’m actually supposed to say “ill-gotten gains.”)
Now the Wylys are, as befits this too, too clever, eccentric little community of ours, interesting characters – apart from their allegedly thieving ways.
They are naturally fierce right-wing political activists. According to The Washington Post (a vile left-wing publication) they have contributed roughly $5 million to Republican causes and candidates over the years. Part of that was money for the notorious Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
On the other hand, here in the Roaring Fork Valley, they have been nothing but sweetness and light. It was Sam Wyly who bought and preserved (“saved” wouldn’t be too strong a word) Explore Booksellers, founded by the fiercely liberal Katherine Thalberg. Sam and his wife, Cheryl, pledged $600,000 to the Aspen Animal Shelter. Charles and his wife, Dee, provided funding for the Wyly Community Art Center. And the list, of course, goes on.
So … are we dealing with political slimeballs? Dishonest businessmen? Open-hearted philanthropists? Art lovers? Dog lovers? Thieves?
Take your pick.
But, on a more uplifting note, let’s not forget that the Nobel Prizes were founded by Alfred Nobel, aka The Merchant of Death, the man who invented dynamite. There’s some uplift for you.
And, finally, let’s devote a moment to that classic “hippity-hoppity / Wapiti” rhyme.
I refer to that in honor of Pitkin County’s deal to buy 742 magnificent acres on the ridge above the Brush Creek Valley from the Droste family for $18 million.
Funny how these things work out.
There’s been a nasty fight going on between the Drostes and the county for years.
The Drostes wanted to develop their property, which is not unreasonable. But, in order to maximize their profit, they wanted to develop it in a somewhat unreasonable manner: big houses on top of the ridge, miles of road cutting through the hillside.
They fought over all of that and, perhaps the biggest sticking point of all: What would become of the herd of elk (they’re really wapiti, you know) that have wandered those acres since time immemorial?
Eventually, an unhappy agreement was reached that would allow the Drostes to build a bunch of big houses (not as many as they would have liked) and a big road (bigger than the county would have wanted).
And then, like the hand of God, the U.S. economy crashed and squashed the Drostes’ dream of adding millions to their bank account.
And so, with time and money apparently running short for the Drostes, the county struck a deal to buy the entire parcel for a couple of million under the asking price.
I expect the Drostes must be sort of happy (they got a few million less than they dreamed of, but millions more than they were likely to have gotten anytime soon). And the wapiti? I’m sure in their ungulate hearts they are overwhelmed.
But wait! Speaking of ungulates … how about Charlie Sheen?
Easy: to hell with Charlie Sheen.
And, while we’re at it, to hell with Mel Gibson too – and any other rough, tough he-man movie stars who think that beating up their wives and girlfriends is just good clean fun.
To hell with all of them.
But for now it would seem that the rich folks are running way out in front. They get their big building and their art museum in Aspen; they get their millions in Snowmass; they get to abuse their wives and suffer – the horror! – a couple of weeks in rehab.
And the Wylys? Well, that one’s still pending – but Billionaire Justice never seems to be quite the same as the justice the rest of us get.
Ah well. Hippity, as the fellow says, hoppity.