Lum: When is a choice not a choice? |

Lum: When is a choice not a choice?

Su Lum

I get very unsettled when I read a headline such as this one in Sunday’s Aspen Daily News: “Future city hall: Community must choose one.”

Yikes. Choose one? It’s this or it’s that and that’s that?

Sure enough, the article is accompanied by a series of potential plans for City Hall, each one more godawful than the last.

One version — said to be favored for further review by three of the five council people — shows a 17,000-square-foot addition to the alley side of the present City Hall (19,000 square feet), plus a new 45,000-square-foot building where the Parking Department building (Zupancis property, Elizabeth Callahan’s place) stands now.

That option is a total of 81,000 square feet compared with the approximate 30,000 square feet of City Hall space (counting the courthouse and Daily News spaces) now in use.

Holy mackerel, you might think, but wait — there’s more.

There’s Option 4, said to be “gaining traction” and favor from the advisory board, which consists of a group of city staff from the city’s Asset, Police, Finance and Community Development departments (ah, the ever-present Com Dev when something needs “growing”).

Option 4 is to abandon the present City Hall for some undetermined public use while building an enormous new city building, which appears in part to be tacked onto the library, gobbling Taster’s, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the Rio Grande ex-youth center (a colossal failure in its time).

Faced with this Sophie’s choice of two terrible options, we tend to lose sight of the reason these options are being presented to us in the first place.

The premise behind this entire development is — ta-da — that the city needs a lot more room. Like more than twice the amount of room it already has.

Is this true?

Raise your hand if you doubt it.

Raise your hand if you want to increase the size of the city government.

We used to have T-shirts saying, “Cocaine: God’s way of saying that you have too much money.”

Our developers have too much money; the city has too much money. Downtown is in the process of ruination with all those Mark Hunt buildings still to come, and the city of Aspen is strolling around with its pockets hanging down, looking to have the biggest project of all on the drawing board.

The police are getting kicked out of the courthouse (3,200 square feet), and we’re going to lose 6,500 square feet from the Danforth building, but this 10,000 square feet of space we supposedly need (given no reduction or increase of staff) has undergone major prestidigitation and has leapt from its existing 30,000 square feet to a whopping 80,000 square feet or more. More!

Why do we let that happen? How to we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, having to make a decision between a horrible idea and an atrocious idea? We end up with our nasty Sophie’s choices because we accept the original premises behind these ideas and then end up squabbling over the details of the outcome when we should have been nipping the premises in the bud in the first place.

Someone should be in charge who can ask, “How little an expansion will suffice?” rather than, “What could we use?” Taking the latter route, everybody gets out their dry pens and starts writing down everything they can think of (“More toilets!”), and pretty soon you’re up to 80,000 square feet. Or more.

Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks that if anyone should be restrained, it should be the city. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at

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