Lum: Keep on keeping on, Aspen |

Lum: Keep on keeping on, Aspen

As we say at the bridge table, “Let us review the bidding.”

First, a huge building boom occurred because the past City Council wasn’t quick enough to reduce the height limits.

Then we thought we elected a no-growth, or at least slow-growth, council only to have Dwayne Romero appointed to Steve Skadron’s abandoned council seat.

Then the Hotel Aspen came before the council with a huge development project that would add four McWhopper free-market units and only nine hotel rooms. Mayor Skadron voted against it, Ann Mullins was recused, Art Daily was wavery, and Adam Frisch, Romero and the staff prevailed in thinking that this was a community benefit. In the end, compromises ensued, but it was not, as the city now claims, a project without variances.

Meanwhile, Ordinance 19 was prepared by staff to address the issue of saving small lodges, which turned out to be a bulging melange of rules and contradictions that seemed to favor developers more than small-lodge owners.

Ordinance 19 contained a tiny loophole that could possibly result in four-story lodges, but that wasn’t, as the city now claims, the only reason Aspenites opposed it. Even though the council members could clearly anticipate public reaction, they passed Ordinance 19, ran like rabbits when petitions ensued and canceled the ordinance before the ink was dry.

“See? We listen to the public! We overturned that ordinance; what more do you want?” Well maybe like, “Duh, don’t approve a thing like that in the first place”?

Lumbering down the road came the herd of Mark Hunt proposals, starting with hotels proposed for the gas station and Johnny McGuire’s spaces. The former was so out-of-whack with the town that Mullins and Romero voted against it on first reading — practically unheard of — and Hunt withdrew his application for it pending further study and perhaps a new council to work with in the near future.

The hotel proposed for the McGuire’s space was, after a series of mind-numbing meetings, passed by the council, although it provided for only three employees to run the whole thing and provided a handful of parking spaces under the St. Regis, all the way across town.

Right around then, up popped Bert Myrin, Cavanaugh O’Leary and others with a petition to put a charter amendment on the May ballot making any variances of height, heft (floor-area ratio), affordable housing or parking requirements in the commercial and lodging zones subject to a public vote.

The council members ran like rabbits and quickly came up with Ordinance 9 (this does not have to be put before the voters), which would allow only 2-foot height and 5 percent floor-area ratio variances. “See? We listen to the public! This is pretty much what you wanted, isn’t it?” Well, no, it isn’t. What the petition-signers said they wanted was no variances at all.

This is where we are now.

Last week, KAJX sponsored and broadcast live a town meeting with representatives from both sides, and I have to say the Amendment 1 — Keep Aspen, Aspen — backers won that discussion hands down.

Among the objections were the possible (unintended, of course) dire consequences of permanently changing our Home Rule Charter. However, we have been doing this dickering game for decades — ever since Aspen became a place to make money rather than a haven of escape. Put the height at 50 feet, and if you have a dickering council, the developer will ask for 55 as sure as sure can be. Put it at 28 feet, and you’ll be asked for 30. No 2-foot variance. No 5 percent variance. Just — sta-stomp — do it.

Voters keep begging for clear rules, the rules kept being bent, and that is why we’ve gotten serious now.

A big red herring are the warnings that there will be a public vote for every last brick and timber proposed by the development world. This will not happen. All that is being asked is that we all follow our own rules — no exceptions.

The developers — who are not stupid — aren’t going to come in asking for a 3-foot variance if that means they will have to hang out waiting for a vote, much less spend money on a campaign. They will ask for what is allowed as soon as the “No Dickering” sign goes up.

I’m a definite “yes” vote on this.

Su Lum is a longtime local who has had enough. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at

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