Fear-based government just frightening
December 18, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoFear-based governments seldom make good decisions. Fear leads to emergencies and panic based actions without the deliberate decision making of good government.Item:The city’s latest “emergency” moratorium was explained by one Council Member as being “not just about the RED ONION.” Of course it is always about what they say is not about. After months of reporting about how the discounted Red Onion lease is coming to an end, City Council threw a blanket freeze over the entire Central Core prohibiting any INTERIOR building changes for six months. The moratorium is to give the city time to propose regulations for interiors of building in the Commercial Core (they currently have control of exteriors). Result: a shaken and frozen commercial environment.Item:The city voted to buy an assignment of the existing sales contract for the ISIS building two weeks ago for $7.75 million plus $1 million in remodeling cost. The city also agreed to convert one theater to commercial space targeted for a Banana Republic national franchise, agreed to exempt the commercial building from its own moratoriums, reduced the usual employee and parking mitigations, agreed to lease it back at amortized purchase cost to the current holders of the contract who can then profit from a sublease to a national chain, and agreed to give the property to the leasee free and clear at the end of the lease; a $20 million dollar giveaway no matter how you spin it and at the end of the lease the city doesn’t even own it. They agreed to this deal despite their own moratoriums effectively freezing the current use of the building.Item:Last Monday the city purchased a dilapidated house to the west of the ice rink for $3.5 million which recently was deemed not worthy of historic designation by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. The city intends to build two small ADU units on the site and create 4 deed restricted small two bedroom units; city cost is to be $4 million plus, or over $1 million per deed restricted unit.Now I’m not questioning some of the intentions of City Council such as keeping the Isis, keeping construction stress tolerable, or creating affordable housing. I question their reactionary fear based decisions affecting the taxpayers to the tune of over $24 million in their role as developer/savior of the city in the past few weeks while passing another emergency moratorium.I’ve showed ten bankers and local business people the Isis deal paperwork and they all conclude the same thing: The most one-sided real estate deal in the history of Aspen. And how could the city possibly subsidize a national chain instead of sponsoring local businesses? Of the 10 only one would speak out to Council; Bill Dinsmoor. The nine others were scared of city retribution and refused to publicly speak out. Bill and I went to the Isis meeting and asked Council to explain its deal making logic and were cut off after a few minutes.Now that’s scary. A city government indulging multiple moratoriums stopping the “evil development community” while going on a development spree, a city government so afraid that resorting to multiple “emergency” measures to extend its regulatory control is justified. Remember that a few years ago the city spent $120,000 on independent national consultants to tell us the Commercial Core was dying due to regulatory “hair spray” killing any individual creativity left.If Walter Paepcke arrived in Aspen today, how would his plans for the city be greeted by the current City Council? Let’s all remember it was dynamic individuals who made this city what it is, not government controls based on fear. It is just possible the future of Aspen might be better than it’s past. Balanced government regulations protecting our town while allowing individual exuberance can create a dynamic future Aspen; somehow we must have the courage to find that balance. The future should be faced with reasoned discussion, rational debate, courteous dissension and smart long term decision-making rather than lurching from one “emergency” to another. Piling on the government “hair spray” is not going to magically restore the soul of Aspen.Tim Semrau is a former Aspen City Councilman, current retail store owner and designer-builder in Aspen. Editor’s note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, extension 17624 or e-mail email@example.com.