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How to preserve Aspen’s cash flow

Roger Marolt

Am I the only one in this town who thinks property owners ought to be able to build any damn thing they like on their own stinkin’ land, whenever and however they please?In Aspen, where huge amounts of money are invested in real estate, this inherent American privilege should be more obvious than practically anywhere else in the entire world. But, the “high-minded” do-gooders among us are working hard to make sure it’s not. They are spouting off in the local papers and around City Hall as if free speech itself is more revered!Imagine this; if you plunk down $20,000 for a measly, white-trash lot on the outskirts of Kearny, Neb., they’d probably let you build a 100-foot wide, piranha-infested moat around your house, no questions asked. But in the land of the “enlightened,” invest a few million bucks and you’ll get the runaround trying to install what amounts to a glorified birdbath in the backyard. How does that make any sense? You laugh, but this is precisely what is happening to a local West Ender who, through no fault of his own, finds himself living next to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies nature preserve. People who have been here for a while know the house. It is a modern mansion that replaced an old, run-down, green Victorian that belonged to some folks named Paepcke a long, long time ago. But that’s not important – it’s all history now. Back to the point, though, not only did this savvy property owner spend a fortune on his house, finagling the building code and tweaking historic preservation guidelines along the way (proof that he’s smart), he has also spent gobs of dough in very high profile ways, including building our state championship-contending hockey team a brand spanking new ice rink (no global warming in there, ha! ha!). Here’s a guy who knows how to play the money game. In short, he is a true Aspen local! And how do some of the dimwits among us choose to respond to this gentleman’s meager request to improve his property with a swimming pool and few necessary party-time appurtenances like a lighted, glass-encased tube connecting it to a tunnel to the house, an outdoor fire pit, 600 square feet of decking and 100 linear feet of lounging walls? We have the gall to demand that our elected officials scrutinize it, with the barely disguised hint that the whole damn project be shot down based on an afterthought of a building code regarding properties overlooking Aspen’s in-town nature preserve (ha! Isn’t that an oxymoron?!), drafted on some boring afternoon when city staff had nothing better to do. For crying out loud, every true Aspenite knows that the building code doesn’t mean anything!We are in danger of setting an awful precedent. When a person comes to town and donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities, builds your kids a state-of-the-art recreation center and leaves big tips all around, it should be a given that the townspeople have the common sense to bend a few rules and look the other way when the benefactor wants to sneak one past us. Do I have to spell it out for you? H-O-N-E-Y! It’s the grease that this great nation slides on!If we choose not to play along with these unwritten rules, I don’t think we can expect wealthy benefactors to do so, either. If we say no to this pool, which will be but a minor infringement on the nature preserve’s serenity, can we really hope that future patrons will blow into town and shower our charities with cash, or finance new amenities knowing that they’ll get nothing but a worthless thank-you from the citizens in return?Even the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the neighbor likely to be most affected by the addition of this nonobtrusive little reflecting pool, should have the intelligence to give this plan a golden stamp of approval. I wouldn’t be surprised if a nice little check suddenly appeared in the old PO box if it did. The honest truth is that, if push comes to shove, you can operate a nature preserve without nature, but it is impossible to run one without cash. The irritatingly righteous opponents of this home improvement project have suggested that there exists some cosmically designed respect required of those who live near nature. Neighbors should act in a reciprocal way with the environment. If you are afforded the privilege of living next to a sanctuary, you can’t just take it on your terms. It continually provides an elemental peace; you should respect that enough to give it back whenever you can so that others, less fortunate, may enjoy it now and then. Gag me! This is the sort of righteous gobbledygook that is concocted by people who have never had to put up with the ultrademanding Mother Nature as a next-door neighbor. It amounts to pressure that no human can live with: Keep your windows and doors battened down so the bears can’t break in, keep the garbage locked up, keep the dogs leashed so they can never chase elk (how else are they supposed to get exercise?), don’t throw cigarette butts in the gutters … you tell me, where does it end?The truth is that very few of our wealthy property owners ever demand, or even pretentiously expect, anything in return for their generous contributions. This swimming pool is one of the rare cases where one man does. So, I urge you to take a good hard look around you to see what affluence supports in this town. Take stock of all the immaculately cared for bike paths and trails. Note the plethora of art and recreation venues. Count the number of thriving nonprofit groups. Walk around one of the finest school campuses anywhere, right here in your own backyard. Now ask yourself, what has nature ever given to us?Honestly, Roger Marolt doesn’t know Jack. He’s nothing but a dull boy at roger@maroltllp.com


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