John Colson: A few more thoughts on Pandora’s proposal |

John Colson: A few more thoughts on Pandora’s proposal

John Colson
Hit & Run

It appears there are cracks in the wall of local obeisance to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s corporate theory that growth is the answer to all questions, though the cracks are thin, indeed.

I refer to the appearance of letters, columns (including mine, Nov. 9 edition of The Aspen Times) and other indications that, while there seems to be relatively scant opposition to the Skico’s latest expansion proposal, it is not entirely insignificant.

Plus, any concomitant appearance of widespread support for the plan, which would add 153 acres of new lift-served ski terrain in the Pandora’s area of Aspen Mountain, is mostly of the “silent majority” type and therefore cannot be proved.

The proposed Pandora’s expansion is up for its final vote, up or down, by the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday.

The details of the proposal have been reported duly in the local media, along with the growing skepticism of some observers, but I have been somewhat puzzled by the lack of comment by our often-boisterous community of environmental activists.

It would seem that, as often is the case in company towns, people who otherwise could be counted on to raise their voices against environmentally questionable development proposals have been silenced, perhaps due to the fact that so many of us rely on Skico and its supporting cast of businesses for our livelihood — an unhappy circumstance, indeed.

On a different front, a big part of this plan is the request to undo a portion of the county’s Rural and Remote zoning, created in 1994, the text of which, according to the Skico’s application, contains the statement that “development of ski uses should not be precluded” by this zoning category.

The Rural and Remote zone, as enacted, covered some 2,275 acres of the so-called “backside” of Aspen Mountain, and essentially was intended to rein in the kind of urban sprawl that has characterized many ski areas around the state and the nation.

Interestingly, while the text of the zoning category notes the possibility of “ski uses” within the zone, it also notes that proposals such as the Pandora’s expansion fall under the county’s “special review” guidelines, meaning such proposed uses are not to be viewed as predetermined and not subject to governmental interference.

That said, I have to point out that, back in the 1990s, local government’s strenuous efforts to keep the lid on growth was a point of pride for many locals, a sign that we definitely are not just another Vail-like ski-industry behemoth.

Unfortunately, fast-forwarding to today, it appears that the current attitudes regarding growth have been modified, if not loosened, to accommodate the “we must grow or die” mythos championed by corporate planners everywhere.

As I contemplate the Pandora’s paradox, I have asked myself how it compares or collaborates with other growth-oriented planning efforts. One such as the Lift One/Gorsuch House project, with its underground parking garage, predicted to bring us a hole at the base of Aspen Mountain not unlike the massive excavation the presaged the erstwhile Ritz-Carleton project, which ultimately became today’s St. Regis Hotel complex.

Although the Gorsuch House parking garage concept has been scaled back a bit after some governmental reviews, it still will generate an uncomfortable amount of “fill” that must be trucked out of town in a vast fleet of dump trucks guaranteed to further snarl our already jammed-up traffic.

While the Pandora’s project does not entail the same kind of massive earth-moving effort, it undoubtedly would involve some fairly major disruption on the mountain above North Star, which would see construction of the new lift, water lines and other paraphernalia to handle new snow-making needs, and quite possibly some future development of one kind or another at the top of Aspen Mountain a little ways east of the existing Silver Queen Gondola facility and the Sundeck restaurant.

And the adjustments to the Rural and Remote zone boundaries is critical to the entire Pandora’s enterprise.

Without the lift, there could be no skiing, and without the zoning changes, there could be no lift.

A sidelight to all this, bizarrely enough, came in the form of recent news accounts about the Skico’s admission that it is having trouble filling its quota of workers this year, a problem at least partly blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, housing issues and a generalized worker shortage around the U.S. and the globe.

To overcome this looming shortage, the Skico essentially is hoping to persuade some of Aspen’s wealthy clientele to open up some of their little-used stock of bedrooms, including what are known as Accessory Dwelling Units, for worker housing.

Skico, thereby, is admitting it cannot hire enough people to provide its customers with the kind of service they are used to.

This begs the question — is it wise to be adding to the ski terrain, and concurrently to the working-class population, when we can’t house the workforce already?

It seems to me that this project, and our community’s future, would best be served by putting Pandora’s back in the box for a while and give our beleaguered town a breather.

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