Not historic, just cruddy
Here we go, folks! History in action!We’ve got a mob of people who are outraged because the value of their undoubtedly cruddy buildings will be hurt by the city’s new historic preservation Ordinance 30.That law makes it possible that some buildings from the 1960s and ’70s might be designated historic, which would lower their scrape-and-rebuild development potential.Some owners of those (undoubtedly cruddy) buildings have screeched so loudly that the City Council has diluted some parts of the law.One familiar verse and chorus of the screeching has been the insistence that the government has no right to pass laws that affect the value of people’s property – and if it does, then the city has to repay them for the damage done to their wallets.But here’s what they ignore: The bizarre value of Aspen property was to a large extent actually created by the government in the first place.No, I don’t mean that the government made Aspen the spectacularly beautiful place, awash in cultural and athletic amenities, that it is.What the government did was institute growth control. And growth control limited the supply of buildings – which made property values skyrocket.So people who bought cruddy buildings (I’ll get back to that in a moment) for stupidly high prices are now complaining because the government that drove those prices way, way, way up is threatening to drive them a little, teeny way back down.Be still my bleeding heart.In fact, every square inch of Aspen real estate has gone up so much in value that nothing short of a nuclear weapon would bring those prices back into proportion.It’s instructive to note that every attempt to limit development in Aspen has been met with wild outcry and fierce objections from people who eventually became rich because of the results of those same laws they fought.Back in the ’70s, realtors and developers were willing to shed blood (not their own, of course) in the fight against growth control. Many of those same men and women are now multi-millionaires because growth control (which they fought) drove up the price of the real estate they buy and sell.And some of them are still fighting growth control – because they’re afraid that it might keep them from cashing in on every last penny of those millions of dollars … the millions of dollars that growth control gave them.It’s enough to make you dizzy. Dizzy enough to puke.OK, time out. I’m sure there are some people who bought an Aspen home back in the early ’70s, who have lived in it ever since and who are counting on a bonanza sale price to support them in their Golden Years (or whatever we now call those years of fading into senility). I think some kind of relief for people who have lived in a home for more than 30 years is reasonable – if property values are really affected.But bear in mind, the true value of most of those properties really ought to be pretty low, because, as I keep saying, most of them are pretty cruddy.OK. Fourth use of “cruddy.” Now I have to explain.In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Aspen was in the midst of a frenzy of slip-shod anything-goes construction. Crews of semi-competent ski-bum stoners, passing themselves off as carpenters, slapped up buildings willy-nilly, without much regard for such niceties as levels or carpenter’s squares. Doors didn’t close; windows didn’t open; drafts blew through “solid” walls. One surveying firm had an informal motto: Who’s gonna know when there’s six feet of snow.Back then, property values hadn’t taken off. They weren’t building multi-million-dollar homes for fussy billionaires. They were building fast and cheap and selling fast and almost cheap.Growth control put a stop to all that. Construction quality is high; prices are higher. Complain about it if you want.So, all in all, I have to admit that most of those buildings probably don’t merit (and probably won’t receive) any kind of historical designation.The only thing “historical” these days is the screeching. Andy Stone is a former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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