Paul Andersen: Airport housing in Aspen leads to airport grousing
When jets lack landing clearance, they circle. So it is no wonder that Aspen City Council “talked in circles” for five hours last week about plans to build 350 employee housing units adjacent to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.
With no chance for a safe landing on a major housing development at the old lumberyard site, council circled. Chris Everson, affordable housing development senior project manager, threw up his hands: “I don’t see how we can coalesce what we heard today.”
City Council deserves credit for making employee housing a critical need. But to plunk down hundreds of employee units along a four-lane right next to one of the busiest airports in Colorado?
Add a planned airport expansion designed to accommodate larger jets that will produce more carbon and more fuel stink, and you have got a perfect storm for a potential housing debacle.
Airport impacts are obvious even where I live up the Fryingpan Valley when jets roar overhead unabated. Most are privates that get stacked wing-to-wing on the tarmac like fighter planes on an aircraft carrier.
Bigger commercial jets are the apparent cost of doing business in a resort. And privates are not deemed at all excessive here since they allow the jet set to drop in for a set of tennis or a few runs on Buttermilk before whisking off to lavish properties elsewhere.
This all contributes to Aspen’s eco-dichotomy as seen in its love affair with monster homes whose oversized carbon footprints are like a Jolly Carbon Giant stomping across the valley farting gaseous clouds of CO2 with every step.
Another carbon footprint derives from pulses of commuter cars and trucks flowing Slinky-like up and down Highway 82 and far down the I-70 corridor.
Many of these stoic commuters endure brain-numbing traffic jams so they can service vacant mega homes, making sure all the lights are on and that the snowmelt patios, driveways, sidewalks and dog runs are thoroughly heated so as to evaporate that bothersome white stuff that defines Aspen’s picturesque winter landscape and ski economy.
It makes you wonder how serious we are about climate change despite our dependence on snow at a time when climate change forecasts call for more rain instead of downy snowflakes piling up for face shots on the Back of Bell.
Laments over an abbreviated ski season pale compared to critical climate issues: rising ocean levels, super storms, desertification, refugee migrations, species extinctions, etc. These are pesky abstractions to willful polluters, but real concerns to anyone recognizing global warming as a pending crisis.
Climate change could be somewhat mitigated with employee housing at the airport, which would hopefully make a dent in the one-per-car continuum that clogs Highway 82 and constipates downtown streets.
However, the lumberyard site would give the town’s workforce a front-row seat to years of airport construction, endless highway congestion, and nose-to-tail flights that will recommence once COVID has been vaccinated to extinction and the traveling public resumes its unfettered mobility.
Something has to be done to get people out of their cars and off the roads, and City Council is at least trying to be responsible for the work force the city generates. It makes sense that Aspen and Pitkin County should house the workers that make the wheels go round instead of pushing traffic woes downvalley.
While it seems convenient to locate an employee “ghetto“ on available land at the noisy, polluted end of the runway, that isn’t the nicest place to house workers who are expected to be gracious catering to Aspen’s every desire.
Aspen’s other employee ghettos — Hunter Creek and Centennial — are humanely situated in quiet parts of town, away from the cacophony surrounding the airport. Perhaps there are more livable sites in less congested settings.
“We are giving some very confusing advice right now,” confessed Councilman Skippy Mesirow. “We haven’t identified some very basic questions about intention, purpose and audience for this project.”
That’s a perfect lead for council to shift gears to a scattered housing infill. And while they’re at it, how about closing the airport to all but gliders, hot air balloons and solar aircraft?
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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