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We can save Aspen

Tim Semrau

A recent guest opinion called for saving Aspen. I would like to carry the idea one step further, and suggest how Aspen can be saved and by whom.The three major problems stated in the opinion were housing, traffic, and local establishments being eliminated by absentee owners seeking bigger profits. I believe these problems have solutions if we locals develop the willpower to solve them. Housing: The city’s no-growth policies have successfully kept our paradise mostly intact, especially in relation to other paradises facing the same sort of money pressure (see Lahaina/Breckenridge/Jackson). Unfortunately the side affect of limiting supply in the face of national recognition of Aspen’s delights is astronomical home prices, far beyond the reach of normal working Aspenites. Aspen is now almost totally built out, and except for old buildings being replaced, there will be no significant supply increase thereby insuring housing costs will stay in the stratosphere. In response the city for decades has taxed the wealthy to fund affordable housing, and required it from any new development so that today 49 percent of the work force upvalley resides in deed-restricted housing. Many locals think we have enough affordable housing, and believe we cannot absorb any more housing growth (see five years of Burlingame controversy). Quite simply if locals passionately wanted to increase the supply of affordable housing and countered the inevitable NIMBY-ism associated with each new housing proposal, city government would increase the supply and has the tax money to do so. Traffic: The actual traffic count this year across Castle Creek Bridge is still below 1993 levels. Of course no one believes this anymore since it takes 20 minutes or more to get three miles to the airport, and 15 minutes to travel the next 15 miles to Basalt. The frustration generated between the new upgraded Highway 82 and the archaic S-curves is inevitable, and getting worse. Of course many locals voted against traffic improvements, believing a four-lane into town is the death of Aspen, and the S-curves “traffic calming” effect insures our small town charm. If the train fanatics, four-lane fanatics, and open space fanatics would all compromise and vote to open the Maroon Creek bridge to bus/HOV lanes in combination with two lanes of bus/HOV across Marolt, we could have a solution in this century.Local-serving establishments: The premise that absentee-owner profit seeking is forcing certain bars and restaurants to close simply ignores the fact that after decades of hard work, local owners certainly have the right to sell out and close up. Nobody can or should force them to continue in their businesses if they want to move on (see Mother Lode, Cooper Street, La Cocina). If we locals want to keep a restaurant or bar viable, we need to literally put our money where our mouths are and concentrate our spending in those establishments so they have a reason to stay open. The same is true for the local lodge owners. The city has changed its rules so they can renovate and stay viable in the 21st century. Those choosing to sell rather than dig in and change do so at their own choice.Wealthy out-of-towners do not control Aspen, and never will. We who live, work, and vote here control the city’s future and have the power to solve our problems. The wealthy can be an asset (see the $20 million ARC, the $40 million high school, the music institute, the Wheeler, etc.) that can help us make our paradise even better. With any sort of compromise and consensus, Aspen has the resources and people to accomplish most anything. Tim Semrau is a former Aspen city councilman, former member of the planning and zoning commission and former chairman of the local housing board.


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