Marolt: Listening to results speaking for themselves |

Marolt: Listening to results speaking for themselves

Does anyone really hate to point out the obvious? I don’t.

A bad building-code variance granted can never be undone, but laws that turn out to not work can easily be changed.

Of course, I’m referring to Referendum 1 in the upcoming municipal election. Just suppose that the opponents of the initiative that would put the power of variance approval into the hands of the voters are correct and it turns out to be a bad idea. If that happens, the voters can change things back to how they are now.

On the other hand, once a lousy variance is granted, the results will last forever. We end up with some big, new, ugly building that is totally out of character with its surroundings and we are stuck with it. An earthquake may level it or a mighty wind might bring it to the ground, but it will rise again with the aid of a good insurance policy. And, as we know well, replacement buildings are never, ever smaller than the ones they replace around here.

So you tell me, would you rather stick with the status quo of variance gifts that never quit giving us eyesores that we can’t fix, or do you think it’s worth a try at something different that, if it proves to be misguided, can easily be rectified?

The opponents of Referendum 1 have challenged us to come up with just one variance that has turned out badly for town. They’ve overlooked an obvious one: the Limelight Hotel. That was the mother of variances that eventually led to The Mother Lode, the art museum and all the other monstrosities that now wall in East Hyman Avenue, where sunlight goes to die.

Remember? They came to City Council asking for a very small variance; just a foot or two more than what the then-current building code allowed. “Big deal,” the council said, and granted it. Well, it turned out that after designing a three-story building, the developers found they were still about 7 feet below the permitted height of downtown buildings. Hmmmm … what to do, what to do?

Here’s what they did: They got a variance of 2 feet that, when added to the 7 feet they were below the height limit, gave them a total of 9 feet to build with. That equaled a fourth floor added to the building plan! The town ended up with a gargantuan hotel that replaced a couple unobtrusive ones right next to Wagner Park. That changed the entire character of western downtown and the adjacent neighborhood.

But wait; that’s not all. That granted variance allowed for a larger-than-permitted door to be opened on the discussion for downtown “in fill,” and the code was subsequently modified to allow for lots of big, new buildings in the city of Aspen, including that penthouses that top them off. Opponents of Referendum 1 will say that none of those projects required a code variance, but I will counter by telling you that one small variance granted to the Limelight Hotel basically resulted in a re-write of the building code that, as I have pointed out in a previous column, was tantamount to gigantic variances granted to one and all would-be developers.

It also is important to point out that the whole impetus for putting Referendum 1 on the ballot is that the City Council actually did go completely rogue in the fall, passing a law to allow added heights to lodges in town. It was a move completely misaligned with the values of a vast majority of Aspen voters and was overturned within 24 hours. Referendum 1 is not a project born from special interest; it is a forced reaction by the residents of Aspen to protect community values from a real, identifiable and demonstrable threat — City Council!

Finally, it is becoming more and more apparent that “ACRA” has become long for “BS.” They have done nothing legally wrong in getting involved in the politics of Referendum 1, but that doesn’t mean they should be involved.

BS throws around a self-proclaimed heavyweight by virtue of the large membership they claim to represent. To point out one final obvious thing, BS’s membership is comprised largely of locals held hostage to a discounted ski pass. Those ski passes are the only connection many of us have in any way, shape or form to BS. I think they need to stick to telling the rest of the world how great Aspen is and stop telling Aspen how great it would be if it started looking like the rest of the world.

Roger Marolt sees very little downside in preserving the character of Aspen. Email at

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