Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
Aspen CO, Colorado

I was explaining to one of Aspen’s illustrious resident boards about how civic-minded people have been taking care of the Red Butte Cemetery over the past hundred or so years, when one of the board members said something about how we’ve reached a crossroads in Aspen where we’re no longer living in the time of “a more simple folk.”

If that wasn’t an insult, I’d be hard pressed to find one, but in retrospect, it brings up an interesting viewpoint that was probably more insulting to his fellow board members than it was to us “old-timers” sitting in the room. I might have slept through the metamorphosis, but when did the “old” Aspen get supplanted by the “new?” I thought we were all in this together.

Speaking of which, we’re all holding our collective breath to see what the COWOP is going to come up with on the Lift 1A side of town. If newspaper reports are even close to grasping the general direction of the task force, it looks as though we’ll get about as much as we went in with. The Lodge at Aspen Mountain was voted down last year because it was too big; now word is emerging from the task force that the hotel plans today might be even bigger than they were when rejected. Oops. Likewise, in spite of clear direction from city council to keep Lift 1A where it is, or extend it down to Deane Street, it appears the task force may suggest the lift be moved up the mountain 150 feet. Tell me again why we need a new lift?

Along the same vein, the master plan for the area is supposed to come up with a community benefit for the site, but that apparently has been hard to accomplish, according to prominent board members, although one of the developers says with a straight face that “a well-thought out, revitalized area with public spaces and amenities is a community benefit.” Fouling your own nest is not exactly a community benefit, but leaving the area as you found it might be.

Like a snowball headed to hell, the developers are in the driver’s seat on this one, no matter the linguistic gymnastics we are fed. Tim Ditzler, the consultant being paid to facilitate this process, is eager to let the buildings take on any size or shape they need to be, just so the developers “get a return on their investments.” That kind of crap has no place in government master planning, but compromising the citizenry seems to be the direction we’re headed.

Puts you in the frame of mind of the Wizard of Oz, doesn’t it, the developers hiding behind their curtain of obfuscation, pulling levers of greed and deceit, never revealing actual numbers, but saying the hotel needs to be “this big” for a “reasonable” return.

Anyway, we’ll see how it turns out, but despite all the flowery talk about consensus, it will no doubt be disputatious in the end. I’m thinking those “simple folk” of old would have said something to the effect that if it doesn’t fit the zoning for the area, it can’t be built. Or, we don’t care what you paid for the property, we’re not going to help you realize bigger profits than what the zoning allows. But that would be too simple, and we folk from “old Aspen” apparently don’t understand the “complications” involved, even though we can spell them: Greed, hype, bullshit, trade offs, groupthink, and there must be a few more.

To end this column, look to the beginning. The Historic Preservation Commission is charged with trying to save some of Aspen’s past through the preservation of unique buildings and landmarks. Sadly, the perpetuation of Aspen is not so much about the buildings as it is about the attitudes, and like smoke from a dying campfire, the Aspen vision of old has dissipated into thin air.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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