Andy Stone: … and with that, he dropped a 500-pound python in my lap |

Andy Stone: … and with that, he dropped a 500-pound python in my lap

Pity poor Carbondale.

Aspen had Walter Paepcke. Carbondale has Brian Huster.

I know that’s not entirely fair, but it’s not entirely unreasonable either.

Walter Paepcke was the man who

gave us the “Aspen Idea.” He marched into Aspen in the late 1940s, a man of wealth and power, and more or less started the Aspen Skiing Co., The Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival.

Brian Huster is the man who wants to give us the Crystal River Marketplace. If he’s not necessarily a man of wealth and power, he’s certainly fronting for men of wealth and power, and he wants to give Carbondale a 125,000-square-foot “big box” retail store as the centerpiece of a 250,000-square-foot shopping center.

Walter Paepcke brought Albert Schweitzer to Aspen.

Brian Huster wants to bring … well, he wanted to bring Target to Carbondale, but that magnificent dream seems to have slipped away. Still, he wants to bring something big – maybe … well, who knows? Something big anyway.

Some people say Huster’s project would ruin Carbondale forever. Others say the town is doomed without it. They’re going to vote on it in a couple of weeks.

Believe it or not, I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter.

I don’t live in Carbondale. If I did live there, I imagine I’d be against the project. But, as it is, from a purely selfish point of view, I figure what the heck, he might get some Wal-Mart kind of store in there that I’d shop at once every couple of months. And having that kind of store in Carbondale would knock 10 minutes off the drive I now have to make down to Glenwood to buy Wal-Mart stuff.

And besides, having a store like that in Carbondale makes it less likely that we’d get a “big box” up here in El Jebel, where I live.

So I don’t really have a firm opinion on Huster’s project.

But I have been thinking that it’s a shame that the fate of a town winds up being decided on the basis of some real estate developer’s desire to make a killing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the profit motive. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with real estate developers. Some of my best friends are real estate developers. Really.

I’ll even hazard a guess that Walter Paepcke made a pretty nice profit on his Aspen dealings.

But the problem is, a developer sees a chunk of land, figures out a deal that could make him a big chunk of cash and – ka-bam! – suddenly a town’s fate is on the line.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the town itself could decide what it wants, what it needs, and how to get there.

Instead, the town has someone else’s idea – an idea formed around a core of profit, not civic betterment – dropped in its lap.

And suddenly, people who work for that developer are very busy telling everyone that, by golly, this is exactly what the town needs.

“You’re doomed if you don’t!” they shout. “You’ll never get a better deal than this one!” they insist – as if the town had been out there looking for “a deal” all along.

And if they don’t get what they want right away, they come back again, a second time. And a third time. They have, after all, lots of time. And lots of money.

“We’ve been negotiating,” they insist. “We’ve changed our plans half a dozen times. We’ve made you an even better offer. Now you can’t refuse us.”

If you use that logic on a date – “I’ve taken you out to dinner half a dozen times. Now you can’t refuse me!” – you wind up charged with rape.

And even if it doesn’t wind up as a rape, that certainly isn’t the way to find true love, is it?

Imagine you’re sitting in your back yard late on a summer afternoon. You’re drinking a glass of lemonade (or, if you prefer, a cold beer) and wondering if maybe you want to catch a movie tonight. Or perhaps you’ll go downtown and have a few more beers with your pals. Or maybe you’ll just hang around the house and relax.

And suddenly, someone marches in and drops a 15-foot-long, 500-pound python in your lap.

“Here,” he says, “wrestle with this!”

And, you know, it may be a great snake, as snakes go. But that sure wasn’t what you had planned for the evening, was it?

[Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is]

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