Paul Andersen: Capping Aspen monster homes is long overdue

Paul Andersen
Fair Game
Paul Andersen

Last week, The Aspen Times ran an article about limiting home size in Aspen and Pitkin County. One might think that climate change is finally poking at the Aspen bubble.

Curtis Wackerle wrote for Aspen Journalism: “A trend over the past decade toward larger homes that consume more energy and generate increasing demand for services…is driving the county’s interest in placing stricter caps on the size of new residential properties.”

Look at the oversized building projects along the Rio Grande Trail between Aspen and Cemetery Lane and one wonders what century we live in. This fall, at least three major construction projects were underway that defy all context within the bounds of climate change and sustainability. One site on Willoughby Way featured an excavation cavity that resembled a strip mine.

On the Midland Trail in Aspen arise absurdly ostentatious monuments to excess on Little Cloud. How can approvals for these monolithic status symbols, each of which adds to an already embarrassing stock of oversized insults to reason, equate with the perceived values of Aspen and Pitkin County?

These atrocities can be seen along the base of Shadow Mountain where several egregious examples erupt from the mountainside like cankers. One was recently listed as “a single-family home that contains 10,663 sq. ft. and contains 7 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms.”

All this for a single family? And this is not even a “large” home compared with other monstrosities that stand imperiously on every hillside overshadowing town.

No matter the guilt-driven “indulgences” of open space easements, “affordable” housing funds, and winks toward marginal energy efficiencies, these so-called “homes” stand in direct contradiction to what any thinking person can rationalize as appropriate for today as we teeter on the edge of a global crisis.

This critique isn’t about envy or class warfare or even growth control (that horse left the barn decades ago). This is about confronting the entitlements of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste in Aspen and Pitkin County where economic expedience is above reproach, no matter how politically incorrect for the 21st Century.

Now is the time to weigh morality against unbridled consumption of energy and materials when natural resources should hold higher value than the esteem of feckless vacation visitors. Now is the time to wake up profiteering real estate speculators, myopic contractors, and conscienceless property owners who live in the dream world of denial.

The blatant visibility of these affronts is prompting local governments to venture tepidly into reducing maximum allowable home size. But the mere suggestion of limits is met with cries of anguish from the development “community.” How dare local governments impede developers and their enablers from yet another windfall at the expense of future generations!

There is no denying that monster homes contribute to climate change. As if a 10,000-square-foot palace can ever be carbon neutral. Super-sizer fees in no way ameliorate the grosser appetites of those willing to squander fortunes for the privilege of polluting the planet from the aerie of Aspen. A new Skico mantra should replace POW (Preserve Our Winters) with WOW (Wipe Out Winters).

Wackerle writes: “Reducing allowed home sizes has been on the county’s radar since at least 2019 when commissioners declared a “climate emergency” because the larger the home, the more intense its impacts are related to energy use, landfill waste and ongoing demand for services.”

A county-initiated report last year on residential properties revealed that once a structure tops 10,000 square feet, the carbon output is trebled per square foot. That finding should have mandated immediate “climate emergency” measures for all new developments.

So, why allow it to continue? Wackerle nails it: “But addressing these impacts is complicated because the second-home industry is a huge economic driver in Pitkin County.”

It’s the economy — stupid! No. It’s the stupid economy!

Until this community weighs environment over economics we will continue condoning the spread of vacation mansions for short term profits, and there will be no progress worthy of the higher values this community pretends to honor.

If you won’t take it from me, try rationalizing Aspen’s carbon exemption with your grandchildren. They have futures to protect.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at: