Letter: The Aspen we love

My friend Ward Hauenstein and I were the “anti-Base2” voices at the Aspen Public Radio town hall at Belly Up tonight. Afterward, some of the younger audience members wanted to chat about the issues. They made an impression on me.

These are people in their 20s and 30s. They love Aspen just as my generation does (I’m 68) and the generations between. But they have an issue I don’t have. I’m not trying to build a business or career; mine is behind me. They have the challenge of building something in Aspen. A business, a career, a family. That’s a special challenge.

One audience member commented that he saw the developer of Base2 as somebody who’s trying to build something. He saw my generation as not building anything. That wasn’t an insult. It was a plea. “I want to build a career here, and I can’t do it if the community turns down development projects. Don’t slow development here.” It happens that Ward (who has lived here 39 years) has experienced all the challenges that audience member faces and will face, getting and keeping jobs in Aspen, marrying, getting housing, raising a family, building a business. But I think both Ward and I understand the frustration of that questioner. People like we are who want to stick to the zoning rules can be seen as inhibiting younger people’s opportunity. I get it.

Here’s the thing: We all love Aspen for different reasons, but one common thread is that we love the warmth and charm of its small-town feel. That didn’t happen automatically. It isn’t guaranteed to continue. It’s a result of intentional zoning and land-use laws that are consciously designed to limit real estate development. What we got in exchange for growth limitations is our special town character. The voters can change that if that’s what they want. We can do it by changing the zoning laws in one grand sweep. Or we can do it by approving big, noncompliant projects one at a time, the way it’s been done recently. It is up to the voters to decide. Do we want to stick with the zoning rules that maintain our character, or do we want to trade them in for this or that developer’s promises of a more vibrant nightlife, more crowded stores and more crowded restaurants? It’s legitimate to want a more crowded and urbanized Aspen. It’s not what I want, but others are entitled to want it.

Ward and I and others are fighting against 2A because we like the warmth and charm of the Aspen we have now. If that’s what you want, defeat Base2 and vote “no” on 2A.

Maurice Emmer