Support City Council: Oppose Ordinance 48
November 29, 2007
I am a strong supporter of Aspen’s current City Council and firmly believe in its vision for our town. That is why I am adamantly against the old proposed Ordinance 30 and its pacifying cousin Ordinance 48.
Hmmm. … Did these two seemingly contradictory statements fly from my keyboard before I had a chance to engage my brain in the task of writing this column, or do I really mean what I said and have some reasoning to go along with it? I am afraid you’ll have to decide that, but I am ready to lay down my logic in cheap newspaper ink.
Let me begin by stating that I believe three out of our current five council members truly understand what Aspen was and know that; while it is impossible to turn back the hands of time, it is possible to preserve a few of the important characteristics of the town that most of us feel are necessary to preserve this place as one of the most uniquely beautiful and vibrant towns in the world. I am certain that 60 percent of the council has enough balls to stand up to those who arrive here with the primary concern of making quick bucks off of contorting real estate into the highest and best use for their bank accounts. That’s enough to make me like these guys. Rock on!
Now, on to why I am against Ordinances 30, 48 and likely whatever derivative ordinance council is still considering: In the long term, I think this contemplated historical preservation measure will be severely counterproductive to everything else this administration is trying to accomplish. It’s just that simple.
It will hamper its efforts in three ways:
First, placing restrictions, including a review process, on properties for the primary reason that they are 30 years or older will exacerbate the current scrape and rebuild phenomenon that is the scourge of our town. Think about it. This ordinance basically says that for 30 years you get a free pass to do with your property what everybody else in town can do with theirs. After that, additional restrictions may apply. What are you going to do if you live in a house that’s, say, 25 years old? I’m guessing you’ll be wondering how quickly you can get a demolition and building permit.
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If council passes a law like this once, they can do it again. If they can do it for 30-year-old structures, they can do it for 20- or 10-year-old buildings, too. I don’t believe that this group would do that, but property owners have millions of dollars on the line and probably are not willing to make that bet. This ordinance will encourage property owners to prescribe to a 10-year remodel cycle in order to keep their properties from ever being considered historically significant! So, we preserve 85 existing properties in perpetuity, but we might never again see another house survive long enough to be considered historical. That is not what we want.
In addition, one of the biggest problems we face now is constant construction and its ancillary negative effects on our lives. Traffic, noise, parking, diesel fumes, dirt and dust will all increase with every remodel and tear-down project inadvertently encouraged by this proposed rule change. The new ordinance will do more to preserve our recent history of trucks and jackhammers than any aesthetically pleasing architecture.
Secondly, this proposed ordinance threatens our sense of community. It has long been a paramount goal and struggle to keep Aspenites living in Aspen. This ordinance is counterproductive in that regard. Many longtime residents are land-rich and cash-middle class. They do not have the humungous cash flow necessary to do major remodels every 10 years in order to preserve their property rights. What do you think these people will be considering after calling this town home for a quarter of a century and suddenly facing a potentially significant decrease in property value because of this ordinance?
I’m guessing that they will be spending a lot of time convincing themselves that retiring in Grand Junction isn’t that bad. This new legislation encourages residents to move when they are on the verge of becoming desirably historical. If it comes down to that, I would rather have the old people around to talk to than the old, dark buildings (presumably sold to more absentee second-home owners who can afford the continual remodels) to barely notice as I drive by.
Finally, I am against this ordinance because I believe the debate surrounding them has polarized many constituents against the current council who would otherwise support them in their other solid efforts. The problem is that this alteration of property rights is so important to people that they might not be converted back into supporters of this administration once the dust settles. This, unlike most issues in town, will not be easy to get over if you have most of your life savings invested in one of the historically designated structures. Many of those affected have lived here a long time. They have lots of friends and will garner widespread sympathy. Our current council cannot move forward with its larger mission if it alienates a sizable chunk of its supporters in this single battle of dubious community benefit.
I know that a lot of people have spent a lot of time in drafting and revising and considering this proposed legislation. And, many will argue that this is good enough reason to stick with it and keep tweaking and working until we get it right. I don’t buy it. Good effort and intention doesn’t always lead to success. No matter what, we have invested into this project thus far, it doesn’t have any salvage value. Let’s scrap it before it sets us back to the point where this new City Council began straightening things out around here. Favorable political progress is a terrible thing to waste.
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