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Be careful what you wish for at Base Village

Georgia Hanson

I cannot fathom designing a project to fail and I am fearful that this is what could happen in Snowmass Village if care is not taken. I firmly believe that the planning process turned Aspen Highlands from an exciting gleaming vision of activity into a dead and lonely space. We have lots of talent trying to turn that feeling around, yet the challenge never completely goes away as a result of the physical and legislative restrictions in place. I believe there were a plethora of bright talented innovative people involved in the Highlands planning process on all sides of the discussion. I don’t think you can fault the sincerity of anyone involved – those who were trying to create something or those who were trying to preserve something. But the necessary prerequisites for building community were forsaken to protect neighbor’s views and the opportunity to do something really unique and successful was squandered to avoid VMT (vehicle miles traveled). The design-by-committee protocol chipped away at the concept, piece by piece. The system we use which requires us to look at individual issues one at a time prevents us from having a global view or a global solution. We get so caught up in setbacks and height limits that we are unable to view the results of our labor as a whole. You can see what you could get if you visit Aspen Highlands outside of a major planned event. It is heart-breaking for those of us who are passionate about the mountain and the village and the spirit of the location.The original design for Highlands was conceived using the basic elements that history has proven are common to all successful community designs through time. The intent was to provide a physical plant that would invite interaction and vitality. A crucial element is density. Without it, there is no way to reach the critical mass required for success. To ignore this fact is to design doom. As each building on the plaza and each story on a building and each home site on the hill were whittled away at Highlands, the opportunity for a really interesting and vital base village was diminished. The end result is blah and a tad self-conscious because it is so grand and so empty. There simply aren’t enough of us here to create any kind of vitality on our own. We have the passion and we have the soul but we don’t have the numbers. We are a sterile hard scape when we want desperately to be soft and abundant in nature. We aren’t elitist but we send off an aura of exclusive by default which couldn’t be further from the original intent. We are frustrated. We exude a generosity of spirit which is unique but we don’t have the infrastructure to compel you to visit. Our hands were tied by micromanagement taking place at countless public meetings without the global view to moderate the impact of the individual concerns. It is sad, almost tragic, for me personally – especially knowing the kind of caring and effort and passion that many of us (residents or not) hold for this site.Snowmass Village has an opportunity to learn from this experience. If you whittle and micromanage a village plan down to the point of no return it will serve no purpose but to extend the challenges already faced in your valley and in our more global resort. Trying to reduce the density and the impacts will leave you with a failure. A more successful approach will be to see that all impacts are mitigated rather than removed! I don’t think it is a matter of money; I think it is a matter of spontaneity and vitality and critical mass. To ignore the elements required to create a compelling space is to leave yourself with a well-manicured dead space that is forever seeking an identity without the tools to find it! I expect that Jim Crown is serious about not returning to the table with a new modified smaller design. He is right. It breaks my heart to admit that we were wrong to continue to negotiate at Highlands – I supported the reductions in size and density and felt our community needed the restrictions at the time. But we should have dropped the project rather than to end up with the inevitable sort of gentrification without personality we now have. As the number of homes to be built dropped, the size and value of the homes rose, restraining the dream of an inclusive community. I am not in favor of thoughtless development or unlimited growth. In fact, I find the monster homes that now dominate our valley peculiarly self-conscious and bordering on obscene – sad commentaries on where our nation’s priorities have gone – the opposite of community. At the same time, we cannot mess with the laws of human nature and expect to generate a convincing resort atmosphere. Contrived “come-ons” don’t get it. The joy of celebrating diversity does. That’s what put us on the map to begin with.Georgia Hanson has been involved with two of Aspen’s most important development projects in the last two decades, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (now the St. Regis Hotel) and Aspen Highlands Village. With Highlands’ developer Hines, she served as community relations director.


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