Even the Grinch had a heart
The Grinch was satisfied to steal all the food, the presents, and even the Christmas tree from the Whos. In the end it didn’t matter. They had their home, and each other, and a song to sing. Toni Kronberg is more ambitious. She wants to take the whole house.By now most people have heard about the petitions Kronberg is circulating in Aspen to stop the city from completing Burlingame Village. Kronberg and the unnamed money people, adjoining property owners and attorneys who are behind her are not only very wrong, but more than a little late. Not only would these petitions stop an important community housing effort cold by imposing new rules retroactively, they would also inevitably precipitate damage claims against the city, based on agreements made years ago with the Zoline family under a public-private partnership initiated by the city of Aspen.From the start, the concept of Burlingame Village was very simple. Find a place to build affordable housing as close to the city of Aspen as possible, with the best quality possible, and with as few environmental impacts as possible. The best place to do that would be right in the heart of downtown Aspen, if it were even remotely feasible. Of course it is not. The next best place is the Burlingame ranch property.This land was bought with housing funds, it is within Aspen’s urban growth boundary, it’s close to transit and utilities, and the housing site is not visible from the highway. Moreover, of the 149 acres the Housing Department owns, only 30 are necessary for homes, with the rest remaining as open space under a conservation easement. It is the most practical alternative we have, and it is much better than all the others. Compared to Aspen Village, Woody Creek Mobile Home Park, The North Forty, or Lazy Glen, it is virtually in the heart of the city.As of last June, the City Council had conducted 31 review meetings and public hearings on Burlingame, over seven and a half years. (The land was actually purchased in January 1997.) After negotiating at length with the Zoline family, in August 2000 the City Council then asked the voters to approve the preannexation agreement they had worked out with the Zolines. Voters approved the agreement by a 60-40 margin.Subsequently the COWOP task force had 10 meetings over three and a half years, beginning in October 2000, to consider the best way to use this land for housing. (COWOP stands for Convenience Or Welfare Of the Public, a group representing stakeholders and regulatory agencies brought together to take public projects through the land-use process, with the flexibility to vary that process.)The housing board held 21 public meetings over more than three years, beginning in June 2001, covering such issues as financing, green building, access road options, unit mix, and infrastructure needs. These meetings were not only public, but special notice was sent to the school district, Aspen Valley Hospital, RFTA, the fire district, the Skico, and others.By the time Kronberg and her backers decided to intervene, the city had bought the land, negotiated beneficial agreements with the Zoline family, obtained voter approval, defended a lawsuit from the Maroon Creek Club, secured the construction of the new intersection access and light at Highway 82, and devoted untold hours to planning, public meetings and disclosure.Many other citizens have joined the City Council in this process, and it has taken nearly a decade. You might ask yourself why so many people would work so hard for so long on Burlingame Village. What has driven most of us is the vision of creating a great Aspen neighborhood just for working residents, a neighborhood like Cemetery Lane, with bikes in the street during the day, and the lights on at night.The elected officials who ran for office promising to support our community housing efforts, and who actually did that once they were elected, have understood this. The succession of City Councils since 1996, and the citizens who worked with them, have had one unselfish goal in mind: to create an opportunity for committed, hard-working locals to put down roots.And we’re talking about people who can’t write a check for $3 million, so essentially we’re talking about everyone working in our community.That goal is both generous and self-interested. It comes from a realization that people are not just mechanical working units and that we are not served well when we send our working population down the highway every afternoon at 4. They will suffer the commute and we will suffer the pollution and traffic. They will take their paychecks and their sense of community somewhere else. And even we humans in Aspen need biodiversity. A balanced community has young people as well as old, new families as well as empty-nesters, strong people who can put out fires, and artistic people who can put on a play. Someone has to drive the meals on wheels van. Someone has to coach soccer. People have worked so hard on Burlingame Village because they are unwilling to turn their backs on a community problem and because they care about the future. Because, when the future rolls around and we are all dead and gone, our lively town will still deserve a chance to stay alive with a next generation. It’s just our job to pass along what we received. It is difficult to describe concisely just how bad the petition legislation would be, and the people circulating this bad idea on the street will never tell you about the havoc that will ensue if these petitions pass. For starters, they would require the city to default on the contracts it has entered into since it received voter approval to move forward four years ago. Not only would this be reprehensible from an ethical standpoint, but it would also expose the city to millions of dollars in damages for breaking its word.We already analyze the impacts of housing proposals more closely than any other kind of building, looking at traffic and infrastructure impacts, density, size, and many more parameters. These petitions add in the open-ended requirement to anticipate every possible consequence of a housing project. If you’re a neighbor and you want to sue the city or the housing program, this is great. You can bring a legal action arguing every possible real or imaginary impact of a project.The plain fact of the matter is that this petition language was written by lawyers for the express purpose of giving just about anyone the leverage to tie up our community housing efforts in court for years. The insidious irony is that the anti-Burlingame petitions masquerade as good government initiatives. They are exactly the opposite.Because the requirement for petition signatures is so modest, an election is probably unavoidable. Reckless, bad choices are not. Kronberg’s petitions should not be signed, and if you’ve already signed them, you can request that your name be taken off. If and when these initiatives come to an election, they should be rejected. Even the Grinch was able to learn, his heart grew a couple of sizes, and today he would vote no.Jim Curtis is a private development consultant who served as a citizen volunteer on the housing board for 15 years. Frank Peters is a general partner of Hotel Lenado and Sardy House who served for four years on the Aspen City Council and four years on the housing board.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.