Developers not to blame | AspenTimes.com

Developers not to blame

James DeFrancia
Aspen, CO Colorado

It was sad to see Paul Andersen, an otherwise very informed columnist, fall so short of his own high standard in his diatribe against developers (“Developers should pay,” Aug. 20).

He ascribes essentially all of society’s ills, from traffic to crime, to this single segment of our business community. While citing a wide variety of growth­related social ills, he regretfully takes the simplistic, demagogue’s approach of blaming it all on one party. (A Bush tac­tic, I might add, and Paul is certainly not in that camp!) Developers, he alleges, seek higher densities only to increase their profit margins. Publishers, one would then assume, must seek only trashy stories to increase their newspaper sales. Moreover, he says that developers must pay for all the social costs of the growth which they generate. Again, I assume news­paper publishers should then pay for disposition of all the newsprint added to landfills.

Paul is simply off the mark in airing his frustra­tion with growth. Development and its consequences are at the core of his complaints, but he directs all his angst at developers. Shall we then blame the newspa­pers for the unhappy news events that they print?

Afew lessons for Paul:

– Developers don’t cause growth, they respond to it. If developers wanted ample land, lack of com­petition and traffic free roads, they would all go to North Dakota or the plains of Nebraska. They don’t, because there is no growth there ” there is growth in Colorado and California and other locales where people choose to live and work. In short, no growth, no developers. Paul has it backward. (Indeed, that was the case in Aspen for half a century!)

– Paul says developers should pay for all the social costs of their product, from traffic mitigation to schools to a suggested crime assessment of some sort. But who really pays all those costs, if levied on a developer? It is the buyer of the product. It is a “newcomer’s tax” of sort, because the finished devel­opment product, sold to a newcomer, carries all the costs levied on the developer, and that product is then priced from its costs. So, perhaps Paul should pay some retroactive fee for the added stress on our soci­ety that his addition to the local population brought on, however modest.

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– And, of course, there is no clear evidence that a complete lack of development would not still see increases in many of these sectors of social stress. A study a few years ago noted that the automobile pop­ulation (i.e., number of registered cars) grew at a faster rate than the people population. In short, more cars without more people, hence more traffic and pollution and road rage ” but not the result of devel­opment. How do we address that, Paul, absent the convenient boogeyman of the developer?

What we need is to control development, not cas­tigate developers. And that is the role of government.

We need sound master plans ” and we need to adhere to them! We need zoning laws, based on that master plan, that are enforced ” exceptions given only in extraordinary, well justified cases, and when the public benefits.

We also need programs and policies to ensure affordable housing, and their consistent application.

We need traffic solutions, and public transit programs that are meaningful. We need social services, as well as law enforcement, to mitigate crime. And we all need to pay for these things in some fashion ” not just the newcomers, via the developers.

And finally, Paul, remember that all of our built environment is the result of some developer’s initia­tive. The Wheeler, the Jerome, the Elks building, the Brand, the Victorians on the West End, the Crystal Palace ” and anything else in the community that you admire, enjoy, use or care about ” at some point somebody built those things. Those somebodys would have been developers!

We need to control development itself, responsi­bly, and not just feel self-satisfied with finding a whipping boy in the developer.