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Goats and chickens in Aspen’s backyards?

I ran into a developer friend the other night (yes, I have friends who are developers) and, as usual, we spent a little time sparring.

I have as much fun tweaking him for being an “evil developer” as he has expressing outrage at my job with the “biased left-wing media.”

As usual, a good time was had by all.



My friend allowed as how he was working on a project outside the valley, west of Glenwood. Then he added, “It’s all over for Aspen. No more development there. It’s done.”

I laughed at the idea of anything putting a stop to Aspen’s development behemoth, but my friend insisted. “You guys got Mick Ireland elected and that’s the end of it. It’s finished.”




I said something about settling into a sustainable economy. He shot back, “People will be raising goats and chickens in their backyards to get by. Is that what you mean by ‘sustainable?'”

We both laughed and went our separate ways, but later on I was thinking about the grain of truth that always is beneath that kind of carrying on.

And the grain of truth beneath my developer friend’s jokes was this: Some people do believe that the whole point of Aspen is development.

If development is finished, Aspen is finished.

For a developer, I suppose, that might be true, but how about the rest of us?

Sure, for now at least the biggest part of Aspen’s economy is development. Buying and selling. Tearing down, rebuilding and selling again. It’s a billion-dollar business around here.

If you’re talking bottom-line bucks on the barrelhead, nothing else comes even close.

Aspen real estate development has made a lot of people a whole lot of money. No doubt about that.

But for most of us, there’s a lot more to it than that.

At least I certainly hope so.

Now let’s be clear: I’m not looking to take another hike down the well-worn “development is evil, developers are Satan’s spawn” path. We’ve walked that way before.

What I’m thinking about is what happens after the unthinkable. What happens when development slows down ” way down.

And, yes, I said “when,” not “if.”

Nothing lasts forever. Sooner or later, one way or another, development in Aspen will have to slow down to something resembling a reasonable pace. In fact, eventually, the kind of development that we have now will come to a halt.

Case in point: Sooner or later, every old Victorian in the West End will have been turned into some kind of megamansion.

And once all the Victorians have been “done up,” there will be nothing left but some tweaking and spiffing ” a fresh coat of paint, a library changed into a home theater, but that’s all. No more major projects.

And, little by little, sooner or later, the rest of Aspen will reach the same point, the point where there’s simply no more room for major development. The last of the funky old lodges will have been turned into a deluxe hotel or a timeshare or a condo project … or some kind of toad du jour. Whatever’s in fashion. The last vacant lot will be filled to bursting with … whatever.

Sooner or later, the floor of the valley will be filled.

Of course, up to a certain point, we can keep pushing the boundaries.

The recent ill-considered and ill-received “in-fill” regulations were an attempt to find more room to grow, by allowing growth to mushroom upward once it could no longer move outward.

That urge, if not nipped in the bud, could result in a Vail-like cluster of six- or eight- or 10-story buildings that block the sun.

Unthinkable? Not necessarily.

Who would think of such a thing? The same people who honestly believe that real estate development is Aspen’s one and only, now and forever, economic engine.

In a way, they’re right. Development’s where the “big money” is.

But ” and here’s what they call a “hard truth” ” at some point the big money is going to run out.

And that’s today’s question: What do we do then? What do we do when big-money real estate development silently (Ha! We should be so lucky) folds its tents (and trailers its Caterpillars) and slips out of town?

Do we really begin raising goats and chickens to get by? I don’t think so.

Assuming we’ve had the sense to draw the line and declare “No more!” before the town sprouted 10-story tumors ” er, condos ” Aspen should be in fine shape.

There won’t be quite so many architects, true. There won’t be quite so many lawyers, I suspect. There won’t be nearly so many construction workers in pick-up trucks commuting 50 angry miles to town every day.

But there still will be great skiing, great music, great hiking … you know the story. There still will be everything that made Aspen glorious in the first place.

In fact, all of it will be a little nicer once the massive construction has stopped.

No, there won’t be people making multimillion-dollar fortunes by tearing things down and building newer, bigger things in their place. But there still will be megamillionaires and billionaires ” who made their serious money somewhere else ” coming here to enjoy one of the best places on the planet.

But only, of course, if Aspen still is one of the best places on the planet.

And so we need to remember two things:

1. Sooner or later, development has to stop. Aspen is not an infinite resource. The question is whether we stop it before the valley is trashed.

2. As Edward Abbey pointed out, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” And, in the end, that rarely works out very well for the host. Or, for that matter, for the cancer.


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