Marolt: Let’s make a good deal for a change |

Marolt: Let’s make a good deal for a change

I wish I had a powder day for every time I’ve heard somebody remark, “I wonder how the heck they got permission to build that.” And I wish I got the day off to enjoy those powder days for every time I heard someone else respond, “It was some sort of backroom deal at City Hall, that’s for sure.” If life in Aspen could be arranged like this, I would be all for building-code variances.

As it is, variances irritate me more than a January drought or a work appointment on a big snow day. I’ve lived long enough in this town to know that there has never been a good building-code variance approved, no matter what anyone says.

Developers have given us long, narrow parks and cheaply constructed employee housing and tiny tourist dipping pools and limited golf privileges during weekends in the offseason after dusk along with roundabout intersections and completely useless 200-yard-long passing lanes in the highway in exchange for variances in getting their nonconforming projects approved. Has the public ever won in one of those politician-approved trades? There actually is such a thing as a stupid question.

Maybe the most compelling argument I’ve heard is that without the approval of Highlands Baseless Village, we wouldn’t be skiing Highland Bowl today. But that is only a compelling argument after funneling a roiling cesspool of nonsense into one ear while using your nose-picking finger for a stopper in the other. Highland Bowl had been begging to be skied since about the time they first put tips on ski poles. That terrain had to be opened. Think about how many pictures of it you see and bold descriptions of it you read in advertising and media pieces about this town. We’d be dead without it, and so you know we’d have it even without the variances given for the mistake on the way to Maroon Lake.

There are those who will tell you that the new art museum and a couple of those other monstrosities along Hyman were approved without any variances, which is the biggest crock of liver and kidney-bean goulash you could be spoon-fed. Those daily reminders of why we should never, ever trust elected officials are a result of basically rewriting the building code, which doesn’t take either imagination or genius to see is the most egregious variance possible.

I’m not saying that all politicians are dishonest in general, and particularly not in this town. But I do believe that most enjoy exercising power, showing off what they believe are their superior intellectual capacities to decipher the common good and lengthening lists of concrete evidence they can point to for things they accomplished. Some might say they use developers’ dollars and land to approve monuments that they can claim for themselves after they leave office, but I’m not that harsh. I do, however, believe that most all of them need to feel they did something while they “served the public,” and few of them believe that doing nothing is often actually something incredible.

If you happen to be reading this and you are an Aspen politician, past or present, don’t worry; I’m certainly not talking about you. Of course, it’s those other boneheads I am referring to.

And that hits the mogul on the sharp, chopped-off side that is invariably formed by all those other skiers who don’t know how to turn properly — nobody knows who is to blame for how Aspen has blossomed into the genetically modified hollyhock in a rose bed.

It’s not so much that we don’t trust what future politicians might do to this town, although it is partially that; it is that no politician has accepted responsibility for what has happened, even though somebody obviously was responsible. Nobody likes what has happened in town the past couple of years. The proof is that nobody’s platform in the upcoming election is to continue the theme.

If nobody is willing to claim political victory for what we have here now, if no one is going to step up and admit they had even a small part in this, if not a single politician is willing to take a modicum of responsibility for turning Hyman Avenue into Walled Street, then we have no choice — we have to take the responsibility ourselves.

I don’t know if requiring a public vote on all building-code variances is good legislation. I believe it will be better than how we are operating now. I am convinced we’d better try it.

Roger Marolt apologizes for the irritable mood he’s in. It can’t be spring fever. Email him at

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