Letter: Not too late to save Aspen
Not too late to save Aspen
Dear Council member,
I am writing this letter to you as Aspen’s long-forgotten real estate developer who only Art Daily personally knows, and you don’t, although you may recognize my name.
Whereas I am prompted to write to you now because of the Jan. 18 article in The Aspen Times, “What’s in Store For Aspen Lodging Units.” I have been considering writing to you for a long time as I sit on the sidelines watching the town I have loved so much since moving there in 1960 slowly slip away both physically, culturally and spiritually.
I acknowledge that the list of current requests in the article for variances and waivers is for lodging only, the culture that pervades most, if not all, of Aspen’s recent and current development projects and appears to be neither any different nor healthy.
If Aspen’s zoning laws are so flawed that the only way a project can be accomplished is to obtain a variance or waiver from most requirements, including fees, employee housing, parking, floor-area ratio, height and whatever else developers and their land planners conjure up, then fix them. If they are not so flawed, then quit giving the town away.
The out-of-control requests for variances and waivers cause the council to tread into the murky waters of subjectivity and arbitrariness. Well-crafted, meaningful zoning laws and ordinances should avoid the necessity for the abusive process of including with every application requests for variances and waivers.
As a developer throughout Aspen’s early years, spanning most of the 25 years between 1968 and 1993, I always endeavored to honor and preserve all things that contributed to Aspen being the greatest resort, both summer and winter, in North America (personal opinion).
I am writing today out of extreme disappointment in how real estate development is conducted today, and the compromises made by the council that has altered the character of the town forever, and which will only get worse if you don’t stop the madness that has put the town on a destructive path.
Developers in Aspen today appear to have little respect for the city’s master plan, existing zoning laws, existing conditions, historic preservation and the departments and commissions that are entrusted with preserving the character of the community. They appear to only care about money, except when they make their initial acquisition, the most important event in a financially successful development. They are willing to sacrifice anything and everything good about our community in the pursuit of extraordinary, excessive profit. Their values are completely out of line with the values of those who made phenomenal contributions to the community in the decades of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and who should be credited with the great reputation the resort enjoyed during its formative years.
Today’s City Council doesn’t take this personally and is, and has been, way to permissive. The result is a severely compromised commercial core, both literally and in image. Much of what people loved about Aspen in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is gone. A close, and very wise, personal friend of mine who worked with me, side by side, as we planned and supervised together the development of Aspen’s three block pedestrian mall once told me, ”You can never go too far down the wrong road before it is too late to turn back.” As I hope each of you agree, Aspen has been dragged down the wrong road, and it is not too late to turn back.
By way of example only, and absolutely not for the purpose of boasting, I want to recall for your benefit a summary of private sector projects I was responsible for. When developing the new and redevelopment projects listed below, I always endeavored to honor “historic preservation,” “existing conditions,” “zoning laws” and the spirit of the city of Aspen’s long-range planning, all of which you can deduct from the following list:
PROJECT LOCATION SIZE WAIVER YEAR TYPE
Chitwood Plaza (1) Mill & Main 15,000 S.F. “NONE” 1982 MIXED
200 E. Main (2) (same) 3,000 S.F. “NONE” 1991 Office/Res.
420 E. Cooper (3) (same) 12,000 S.F. “NONE” 1982 Ret./Res.
Volk Plaza (4) Galena/Cooper 3,600 S.F. “NONE” 1984 Ret/Office
620 E. Hyman (5) (same) 6,000 S.F. “NONE” 1975 Ret/Office
Larkspur Original Curve N/A “NONE” 1975 Residential
Ute City Bldg. Galena/Hyman 12,000 S.F. “NONE” 1974 Remodel
Aspen Block Galena/Hyman 6,000 S.F. “NONE” 1972/80 Remodel
(1) 3 required Employee Housing (EH) units on site. Required 25% open space is beneficial, as required. This project did not maximize allowed height in order that it honor the existing condition of the historic corner building, location of El Rincon bar.
(2) Two required EH units on site. Required parking on site. Although an office building, it honored the historic over-lay requirement that the architectural style be that of “turn of the century, residential”.
(3) Three required EH units on site. Because of required View Plane Corridor, there was no third floor included in the original plan, therefore it was not able to maximize the otherwise allowed height in the CC.
(4) EH requirement satisfied with purchase of off-site units. The required 25% open space may be the most beneficial in the CC. This building did not maximize height in order that it honor the existing condition of the contiguous former Eagles Lodge.
(5) The 25% required open space is very beneficial. Unlike the Aspen Art Museum, an architectural travesty in the 600 Block of E. Hyman, my very sensitive architect, Tom Wells (deceased), did the right thing by designing all of the allowed FAR in to this project while honoring the “existing conditions” of this, once, very special street. As an “in-fill” project (this being the remaining undeveloped lots on the North side of the street, he was able to stay under the maximum allowed height limit while creating below grade commercial space that is arguably one of Aspen’s very best restaurant environments.
The primary purpose of this letter is to encourage you to stop, at once, from giving our town away. If an investor paid too much for the acquisition of its development site, then so be it. You don’t have to give the town away to bail them out. Don’t be driven by the fear of a lawsuit; be driven by your responsibility to save what is left of Aspen.
You haven’t gone too far down the wrong road, and it is not too late to turn back.
Not one of the above projects required a variance or a fee waiver. All of the above projects met the employee housing requirement, parking requirement, height limitations, other zoning requirements and all honored the existing conditions of the location where development occurred without the necessity for free-market housing.
Donald J. Fleisher
The Forgotten Developer
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