Marolt: While we scrutinized building heights, the airport, hospital and government grew | AspenTimes.com

Marolt: While we scrutinized building heights, the airport, hospital and government grew

Roger Marolt
Roger This

Some people point to the gargantuan new local government buildings being readied for groundbreaking and set them aside as a bad example for development in general. They say that local government isn’t playing by its own rules and that’s not fair.

I don’t quite see it that way. Yes, the new government office and law enforcement buildings that will be shading Rio Grande Park for the rest of our lives will be humongous. Their construction will be loud, dusty and disruptive. Given the need to cram as much square footage onto the allotted land as possible to be economically efficient, they will probably be ugly, too. That said, I accept them as necessary evils. We have created a situation for ourselves where we have to have them.

I view the new government building project much the same way I did nuclear warheads with American flags on the sides in 1980. Never have more frightening, massively lethal, gruesome devices been built, but I am glad we have them. There was and, unfortunately, still is a need for big bombs in this world ruled by greed and the quest for power. And they’re not going away, at least not until something worse is required.

The new government office buildings are not a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. The chicken came first. We chickened out of the war on growth, and then development eggs hatched all around. The big, new government headquarters is not going to lead to even greater commercial development in town. Government headquarters needs to be expanded because commercial development in town is so out of control that we have to make more office space for people we depend on to control it.

Don’t blame our government for this monstrosity of a red-taped campus. Blame it on developers! Without them, we wouldn’t need the concrete complexes of monitoring. Without their greedy lot-line-to-lot-line buildout plans, this arms race wouldn’t exist. If any of them had ever even hinted at self-control in constructing or truly considering what is best for the community, we wouldn’t need an expanding bureaucracy and a gargantuan place to house it. If they weren’t always trying to trick us, we wouldn’t have to hire so many people to scrutinize every fast one they try to pull.

For every construction plan that comes in with the idea of replacing something with something bigger, we need more people in the planning office to control the expansion plan as it goes through the process from drawing to completion. When new development is finished, it requires more employees to work in it. It also attracts more visitors to town. Among them will be more hell-raisers and scofflaws who require more attention from local law enforcement. It leads to more congestion on our roads, a more crowded airport, an inadequate mass-transit system, overstressed utilities and the need for more affordable housing. It causes big government.

Many have compared Aspen to a once-beautiful woman who is not aging gracefully. I’m going to change the metaphor to an athlete. The lean, mean fighter suddenly puts on 5 pounds and it’s cause for a freak-out. Then he puts on another 5, and it’s not quite as bad. The next 5 is barely noticeable. Eventually he’s putting on flab, and nobody can even tell. The man eats his way into being an out-of-shape, former jock, boring people with stories of the glory days.

Our first 5 pounds was the Limelight. Then we got the Mother Lode. Our beer belly is the Aspen Art Museum, and the loose skin on the backs of our arms is East Hyman Avenue and the Lift 1A developments. All these things created the need for the new hospital and the airport expansion. It won’t be too long before we need new school buildings and a longer convoy of buses.

While we focused intensely on building heights and square footage, the ancillary infrastructure and service needs caused by development have exploded. All the new stuff we “need” as a direct result of commercial development gets approved with little scrutiny. Aspen is fat and getting fatter.

Ideally, we might combat developers with a dedicated band of rebels, like we did in 1975. But a lot of our rebels are now on Social Security and living part time in Sayulita. It’s obvious that the upper hand is now attached to the arm of a crane. Like a larger hospital, airport, highway and schools, we now need bigger government. Punch another hole in the belt so we can breathe.

Roger Marolt realizes that Aspen will never be able to lose that extra 5. Email roger@maroltllp.com.


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