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Aspen’s most vital industry

Well, we’ve got a moratorium. And, just to get my personal bias clear right from the start: Hot damn! Anything that puts the brakes on development these days is a great idea.It was fascinating to follow the debate leading up to the City Council’s 4-1 decision (with Mayor Klanderud, who apparently thinks things are fine just the way they are, casting the only dissenting vote).The people who opposed the moratorium argued that it would damage “Aspen’s most vital industry” – construction and development.I read one letter to the editor (written after the moratorium was approved) arguing that “We are a resort and our livelihoods result from those who visit our city, buy property here and renovate or expand, or who buy land to build.”I don’t want to pick on that one letter writer, but that sentence hits the nail right on the thumb. It’s a perfect example of what was so completely wrong with the anti-moratorium arguments.Construction and development isn’t Aspen’s most vital industry any more than our current war is Iraq’s most vital industry. OK, that’s a politically loaded comparison, but here are the parallels: The workers come from far way, while we who live here suffer the damage, pray for a better future and wonder what happened to the benefits we were promised.Who really profits from all the development in Aspen? Not Aspen. The workers mostly come from out of the valley. They bring their lunches to work, take their paychecks home and don’t do their shopping here. The building materials? They are mostly trucked into town too.So how does Aspen profit?Well, some of the contractors are local, so that money stays in town. Some of the property owners are local, too. And, of course, the realtors – and, no matter how you may feel about realtors in general, at least a lot of them are local and the money they make tends to stay here.But most of the money heads downstream and out of town, just as surely as the snow that falls on Independence Pass winds up watering lawns in Pueblo and crops in California.The noise, the dirt and the disruption, of course, all stay right here. And the traffic jams on the highway are perfect distillations of everything that’s wrong. The road is clogged with construction workers – mostly from out of the valley – heading to work in the morning and taking their paychecks home at night. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they’re all perfectly nice people, struggling to get by – but that doesn’t make them Aspen’s most vital industry.And what happens when those buildings are completed?Well, if they’re commercial buildings, the rents are too high for any local businesses to afford. So we get the chain stores who hire a few local employees and ship the profits right back out of town.Now let’s get to the heart of it. That letter writer I cited at the beginning did have one thing correct: we are a resort. But our livelihoods result not from those who buy property here, but from the far greater number who come here to visit, to eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, stay at our hotels … and go home to tell their friends what a glorious time they had.That’s our most vital industry: showing people a good time.So now, you tell me, do you think those people enjoy the traffic jams? The clouds of dust? Do you think they like being awakened at 7 in the morning by the jackhammers, the nail guns, the circular saws? Do you think they rush home to tell their friends how wonderful it was to breathe diesel fumes?My only problem with the moratorium is that it isn’t wide enough or long enough. Otherwise, it’ll do just fine. After all, it’s protecting our most vital industry.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com


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