City Hall’s unfounded panic and runaway hubris | AspenTimes.com
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City Hall’s unfounded panic and runaway hubris

Tim Semrau

The springtime dust has settled, both figuratively and literally. Literally, I’m referring to the completion of the seemingly endless street and corner construction improvements, and figuratively to the end of the recent bout of “emergency” actions taken by the city. Just what was that emergency about? An emergency is serious government action that bypasses the normal process of staff research, expert testimony, multiple opportunities for the public to comment and the usual months (and sometimes years) of long, careful reflections by our leadership. The reasons as listed in the city moratorium ordinance:”The community is not achieving its affordable housing goals as set forth in the Aspen Area Community Plan.” Really? The goal of the plan is to house 60 percent of Aspen workers in Aspen, a goal we’ve never come close to and the fact is today we house more locals in affordable housing than ever before (see Burlingame).”The recently enacted amendments to the land-use code referred to as ‘infill’ are not having the desired effects.” Impossible to judge since there hasn’t been one project submitted following all the infill regulations, every outstanding approved project was done at the discretion of City Council. If they didn’t like the Limelight, they had every right to deny it since it was a discretionary PUD. To blame infill for past discretionary project approvals is disingenuous. The truth is there are no effects yet, desired or otherwise, only potential.”Recent development activity indicates that locally serving businesses are being negatively impacted thereby losing an essential character to the city’s retail economy.”Is that so? Which business? When? Does anyone know of a local business closed up and moved due to excessive construction activity? La Cocina and Cooper Street sold because the owners decided to cash out. “Construction traffic and activity within the city has had a deleterious impact upon the health, safety and well-being of the city’s residents.” Some days it sure does seem that way, but how does that explain the actual traffic count across Castle Creek bridge is the same as 1993 even with the plethora of government street projects this spring? And finally, if our city leadership really felt that construction activity presented a bona fide emergency, wouldn’t it have limited government construction activity?(See street improvements, Highway 82 changes, $30 million Burlingame construction, $20 million new school construction, $14 million new fire station, the golf course, government development of the Zupancis property on Main Street, etc.)So if the facts can’t support an “emergency,” then what is really going on?One can only guess from the statements flying around the council chamber. In fact, I will take a guess, which is only a guess because it is impossible to glean what is the real driving force behind council’s crisis actions.But I have to use the “C” word: change. Quite simply, some members of council are emotionally reacting to two things – the end of La Cocina, Cooper Street Pier and Stage 3, and the ungodly amount of money flying around the real estate market.Many citizens share the emotional attachment to LaCo and Cooper Street – many except the owners, who apparently decided their time was over. I share some of their emotions as I age and would do anything to recover the Aspen that existed in 1970. But more importantly, I would do anything to recover the me that existed in 1970. I don’t necessarily like the soul changes in Aspen, but I also know this town is still better than anywhere I know of on the planet. The brutal truth is the world has changed much more than Aspen has. This week’s crisis of “Aspen is losing its soul” because LaCo and Cooper Street are closing is the same reaction we once had to Boogie’s and the Gap. The real threat to Aspen is asphyxiation by local government. A current council member once said that in a perfect world the city government would own all the land in town. The hubris that city government would wisely choose who would live where, what type of businesses the town should have, and go on to solve global warming in a few extra work sessions is too fantastic for words.The infamous $100,000 plus “Frick and Beer” consultants concluded a few years ago that Aspen’s core was losing its aliveness due to governmental “hairspray.” Via pictures, graphs, statistics and examples from other communities, the report suggested that Aspen’s government remove the regulations ossifying the core and allow some individual creativity to bring some life back. Now that there is the possibility of replacement in the core, this council has halted everything. Much is made of the Paepckes’ far-reaching vision and transformation of Aspen. Recently a private individual, unfortunately from the dark side, proposed a combined Isis art center and a new fire station to boot, all at his expense. Now, I don’t know if the deal was good or bad for the city, but I do know his offer was ridiculed and rejected out of hand without a true public airing. Now we are spending $14 million on new fire stations and maybe $8 million on the Isis, $22 million of tax money that might have been saved with a little negotiation.What type of reception would the Paepckes’ get if they showed up in Aspen today with their grand plans to change Aspen? Ridicule and rejection?The Aspen Area Community Plan’s goal is to encourage “messy vitality,” and by God our local government is going to control everything to get it for us. Can you imagine what the fountain would be like if it was a government-controlled project instead of created by Nick DeWolf?Think about it. Tim Semrau is a former Aspen city councilman.


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