Marolt: I think we just got fooled, again
September 13, 2013
Everyone knows the wisdom of putting yourself in another's position before passing judgment. So why doesn't this good advice hold true when you pass a noise ordinance? Did anybody consider the circumstances of future Aspen penthouse owners when we made them all agree not to complain about the noise coming from bars and restaurants that might occupy the street-level spaces below them? I think we should have flown a few miles in their Gulfstreams first.
I am all for vibration in downtown Aspen. I don't care if it's from a band playing hard rock or the clattering of jackhammers busting it up. They both sound like money being made. I live in Snowmass Village, the town where rowdiness goes to get murdered. One thing we know how to do is sleep. We go to bed early and often, invest in reliable alarm clocks and buy good coffee for the wrong reason — to stay awake in the evenings. You could say this penthouse-bar conflict is a moot point there.
But, for people who live in Aspen with all the vibration that a healthy resort community can produce, I don't think outlawing noise complaints will end well. For starters, what are the penalties going to be? Can you make someone move out of their penthouse for violating the no-complaint restriction? Doubtful. Can you tear the top floor off the building? No. Can you put them in jail? Hmm. So, what's left? That's right: a citation. Ha ha ha ha!
I am sure you could issue citations to the complainers, but what is a hundred bucks or so to a person who is trying to preserve the enjoyment of their $8 million penthouse? My guess is that if the police issue hundred-dollar citations for complaining, the recipient of said citation is going to make sure they get their money's worth. A hundred bucks to lodge an illegal complaint with the Police Department would be good entertainment value for some — "Here's the number, Marv. It's your turn. Give 'em hell! See if you can get them to hang up on you again. Ha! Ha!" The only way you are going to shut them up with monetary threats is to shove dollar bills in their mouths.
Let's get back to the fundamentals, though. In Aspen, before enacting legislation intended to limit the carrying-ons of the rich and famous, I think it behooves us to ask the question, "What would Croesus do?"
I know what I would do if I were made of money and wanted to live in a quiet penthouse in downtown Aspen. It's a three-step approach. First, I'd buy the penthouse of my choice in the center of the mall. Second, I'd buy the rest of the building. Third, I would fill the commercial space in my building with the tenants of my choice, which, in the name of peace and quiet, probably would be something like art galleries, timeshare sales offices, a newspaper office or maybe nothing at all. What could be more tranquil than empty storefronts? It certainly would ensure that I never ever would complain about the downstairs tenant. So much for good vibrations.
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The plan makes perfect sense. Buying downtown retail space in Aspen hasn't been a bad deal since about 1873. I would come to town, buy an entire downtown building and use the rental income from my quiet tenants to pay for things like filling the wine cellar, detailing the Range Rovers and paying the utilities for all the snowmelt I'm going to install on my sidewalks.
I don't mean to disparage wealthy people by generalizing, either. I think most of the super-wealthy people who come here like the activity and nightlife downtown every bit as much as anyone else. But not all of them do. And it will take only about a dozen of them to buy all the existing and proposed penthouses downtown and the retail spaces beneath them and turn Aspen into a tea-sipping, art-critiquing whisper zone. Anybody remember when the West End was vibrant?
Money is power, and there is going to be a lot more money parked upstairs in all the penthouses this town will soon have than there will be in the retail spaces below them. You know this is true. It is why developers are paying seemingly nonsensical sums of money to own downtown Aspen real estate. They know the secret formula for success!
We never should have allowed downtown penthouses, and we never should have reacted so broadly to one downtown couple complaining about noise, but since we did and there's nothing to do about either now, we shouldn't compound our mistakes by codifying incentives for penthouse owners to buy every other piece of real estate downtown to turn into personal yard ornamentation.
Roger Marolt remembers the guy in Pitkin Green who bought the multimillion-dollar house across the river and tore it down because it was ruining his view. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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