How far will this go?
If you see me coming down the sidewalk this morning, you had better cross the street. I’m stomping on ants, stepping on cracks, and bumping ladders as I pass underneath. You think Jon Bush is steamed about those silly old trolley cars? He’s the conductor on The Little Engine That Could compared to how I feel today. In all my time in Aspen, I’ve never witnessed a display of idiocy like the one that was put on in City Council chambers last night. Hello Greed, meet Stupidity. They sold us out.In case you slept in under a rock, one of the monuments to our storied history was downzoned into a temple of tomfoolery and an edifice of economic incompetence. Last night the final hazy eve of our dimming past was sucked up by the gloomy dawn of our inglorious future.The Hotel Jerome is going timeshare.That’s right; the rats got approval to turn the cream of historic structures in our town into another House of Cheese. What really curdled the milk is how they did it.As the final plan was being approved, one provision was read so quickly that I missed it. Fortunately, Toni Kronberg didn’t. She asked them to re-read the paragraph that I didn’t catch. As it turns out, that glossed-over condition told everything we needed to know about how this deal got ramrodded through the system.To convince our leaders of this project’s merit, the developers “reserved” two fractional ownership units for use by City Council members and their “guests” at any times they choose. They are not subject to any of the usual rules of availability that other units in the project are.Do you get it? These units are for the sole and exclusive use of City Council members! They only have to fight amongst themselves to see who gets to use which time slots every year. One council member had the audacity to suggest that the city clerk could keep a reservation log at City Hall … to make it fair!Meanwhile, we, the taxpayers, get to pay the monthly association dues!I remind you that all of this discussion took place after most of the citizens in attendance earlier had left for the evening. It is very apparent now that this happened by design. Yes, this item was on the agenda; on a separate page passed out by a clerk after the meeting had already been called to order. It was handwritten in language so verbose that a tenured mint employee couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. One by one, items on the regular agenda were addressed. One by one, concerned citizens left the room after each particular item of interest was addressed. After an unusually long intermission, few who weren’t on the city’s dole remained. Our esteemed council, to a person, looked perturbed that anyone stayed. Nonetheless they carried on, banking that they could baffle us with the proverbial bovine manure.It didn’t work. Those of us who stayed, our curiosity piqued by rude treatment, hung on every word. Not able to contain ourselves on many points, we were threatened with removal from the premises on several occasions. We begged, reasoned, and raised our voices, to no avail. The final plans were approved: 5 yea, and 0 nay.The “new” Hotel Jerome will be converted into 120 four-bedroom units sold in 1/12 ownership interests. The sales price is projected to be a staggering $975,000 per share! They will be allowed to go up 12 feet in height and add one floor to the existing structure! The famous lobby will be replaced with a swimming pool “grotto area” fed by two “mountainscape” waterfalls! And yes, they will be required to mitigate with employee housing. Our City Council designated 10 units at Burlingame for this purpose. The developers will have to contribute $25,000 per unit for construction of them. That’s less than one tenth of the actual cost! For a measly $250,000 contribution to an employee housing project that was already slated to be built, these dirtbag developers were never so much as placed on a hook from which they might have to wriggle off!It was decided quickly that the current underground parking at The Jerome will be sufficient. If the need arises, the “Hotel” will be allowed to lease additional parking in back of the post office for valet services. What’s the cost for this to the developers? Ten dollars per year! That’s not a typo, folks. For 2.7 cents per day, they have the exclusive use of 185 parking spaces in back of the post office while we, the taxpayers, pay five bucks a day to ram our cars into the snowbanks!Perhaps the biggest telltale of which direction this project has been sailing from the beginning is that construction will begin this May. You tell me how confident these developers were of getting final approval last night. In order to have this project ready to go next month, they had to be lining up contractors and ordering concrete last summer. A building permit will be issued next week!I spoke with one council member after the meeting on the condition of anonymity. She told me that, relying on her background in law, she is confident that no laws were violated by council members accepting “use” of two units in the project. Since there is only the illusion of actual ownership in a timeshare, nothing of tangible value was received. Because of this, the gift is considered “de minimis,” and thus perfectly legal.A planner told me after the meeting that this is just the beginning of a new and vital downtown area. I’m sure there will be plenty more perks for elected officials, too. This morning someone is laughing at you. Call City Hall this minute and make it perfectly clear that you don’t get the joke!Roger Marolt is nobody’s fool. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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