On the rites of redevelopment
I was standing in line in City Market when the man ahead of me, a stranger, turned to comment on my column a couple of weeks ago about all the development on our local plate, which we seem helpless to stop.Feeling uncharacteristically positive, I said, “Well, they didn’t approve the Lodge at Aspen Mountain,” to which he flatly replied, “YET!””Do you mean until they come back with something smaller?” I asked, and he rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders and gave a little flick of his head. I knew exactly what he meant, and I think that a lot of us share the feeling.There is a perception that the community has “gone soft” on development because we no longer storm the gates of the city council and county commissioners’ meetings the way we used to in “the old days,” when the truth is that we have become resigned to a new game with new rules and don’t know how to fight it.The underlying premise of the new game is that developers have certain land-use rights under our present codes, so proposals come in with a caveat of either-or. Do you want a golf course or condos? Either you approve our horrendo proposal for mega time-share units disguised as a hotel OR we’ll build multimillion-dollar townhomes. Which side are you on?Part of the game is that the original horrendo design is way more than the developers, in their wildest imagination, expect to get approved. Height limits are exceeded by dozens of feet; bells and whistles, towers and turrets abound, just begging to be plucked from the drawing board. The developers chuckle through their crocodile tears as these excesses are excised from the plans.The public meetings are usually packed with proponents of the developers, and the rest of us watch on GrassRoots TV shaking our heads, knowing what’s going to happen. We elected our city council to try to protect the town and, as expected, they try to do that. They argue, they refuse and lo, the developers, who had said at the last meeting that this was absolutely as far as they could go, come back with another reduction. In rounds two and three, another story of the project is lopped off, units are juggled to respond to the objections, but make no mistake, that’s as far as they can go. If approval isn’t granted they’ll use their God-given right to build townhouses and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.In the final round of the game the developers weep that they have cut their project to little more than a pile of sticks (think Aspen Highlands) and now they’re being forced (sob) to build the dreaded townhomes instead, against their will, against the will of the people, and that’s when, at last, they get approval for the project.It is a Kafkaesque poker game, because there are no real rules governing the duration of play or the level of bidding, and at the end no one has to lay their cards down so no one gets to see how much each side had been bluffing.If the public seems apathetic, it’s because with all the weirdness and posturing of the process, we know the outcome in advance. Witness the approval of the Lodge on Monday night. Like the guy said.Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks we need a Hoyle book of rules before continuing the tournament. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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