Roger Marolt: Roger This |

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I don’t care whether you are in favor of The Aspen Club expansion. Hash it out and make up your mind. As painful as it has been to witness at times, this town has been made great on passionate debate and principled infighting that spares nobody’s head that pops up in the line of fire and oftentimes takes down a few interested bystanders, to boot. Pulverizing issues is something we’ve done well. We can pat ourselves on the back for that. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes lots of participation. It has been a job well done.

But, I think we’ve had too much of a good thing. No longer is it enough to debate the issues. The process has become a game that begins with asking for far more than you want and ends in getting much more than you need. Worst of all, both sides are playing it that way. There seems to be no more taking the high road into Aspen.

I want to say right now that this is not another column about The Aspen Club. But, did you happen to follow what transpired in the City Council meeting on Monday regarding their development proposal? It was enough to make me realize that our community’s review process has devolved into a turd-throwing match where the sole objective is to see who can pack together the largest pile of crap, fling it wildly into the air, and then look around to see where it stuck.

Developers set the standard in chucking it out there. Over the years they became very good at it until recently they shot it all into a tremendous headwind. Look at a few of the disastrous development projects that have cratered during the past five years. It’s a sad state of affairs when you have to admit that the developers sitting on half-finished projects are luckier than those who completed them. From the Limelight, Mother Lode, and La Cocina buildings to the Dancing Bear, Stage Three, and Boomerang holes, all the pie in the sky we were promised by the developers has turned out to be flaky crust filled with dung-flavored whipped cream … and it’s now in our faces!

It’s not hard to see why City Council is edgy. You can’t help but feel like a clown instead of a star when you have to start each day with a poo-poo facial. So now they are fighting back by flinging some of their own and, in this instance, doing it much more effectively than the developers ever did.

In Monday’s meeting about The Aspen Club, the chief concern from City Council seemed to be that The Aspen Club has not guaranteed that it will always be an “affordable” health club available to members of the community at large. One solution discussed is that The Aspen Club should put a large amount of cash in escrow to be used to build a new health facility for “locals” in the eventuality that The Aspen Club ever becomes something besides a health club. Mind you that this discussion took place a little more than a week after the same City Council debated expanding and improving the city-owned recreation center (ARC) to now accommodate serious weight training along with the aerobic machines, swimming, skating, rock climbing, yoga, etc. that it already offers. It seems that the ARC needs to attract more members to offset its nearly $500,000, and growing, annual subsidy from Aspen taxpayers.

So, just to get this straight: The city wants The Aspen Club to put up enough money to be held in reserve to build a health club in case someday The Aspen Club decides not be a health club, in order to get approval to construct the health club they want to build in the first place, which the city plans to compete against for fitness customers, which helps ensure that The Aspen Club cannot possibly remain a viable health club for locals. Do you get it? I certainly hope not. If you do there is something seriously wrong with you. This makes no sense!

The city is dishing from the bottom of a tremendous pile of crap here. The thing is, I don’t think they are doing it consciously. They have simply been playing in the doo-doo fight for too long and have adopted their opponents’ proven strategy of reaching into their own diapers for ammunition – you grab what you can when you can, and fire without looking!

The idea of extracting community benefits based on what tangential product the developer has to offer has become absurd. We are like spoiled children who already have everything we need. We want things just for the sake of wanting them … and because we can get them.

We are talking about health club issues that will not have any meaningful impacts on our lives with more urgency than about trying to feed starving children on the streets of Calcutta. Does Aspen, Colorado, so badly need another workout venue besides the dozens of parks, seven existing gyms, four ski areas, two ice skating rinks, hundreds of miles of bicycle, cross-country skiing, running, and hiking trails, three golf courses, multitudes of tennis courts, plethora of athletic fields (artificial and natural), and half-dozen 14,000-foot peaks within spitting distance that this becomes the crux of the debate on development? Go ahead and laugh, but it appears that this is exactly what it has come down to.

My vote is for City Council to stop this absurd development game of extracting whatever it can from the other side simply because it can. It’s wasteful, and shameful. This world doesn’t need more of that. Don’t require The Aspen Club people to make promises that they can’t possibly keep. Don’t make them give us things we don’t need or even particularly want. Tell them what they have to do to make this project work. Start with that premise and finish with it. If you keep playing like rats, pretty soon only the rats are going to play with you.

End of story … or, unfortunately, maybe we’re only in the second chapter.