Roger Marolt: The path to the garden ended up leading out of town
Remember in 2007 when City Council, and others with business-appropriate haircuts, decided Aspen was in dire need of more hotels? Carolyn Sackariason wrote a good piece in this paper earlier in the week about it. Whoever was in charge of counting pillows believed hotel pillows were somehow materially different from timeshare pillows and told us Aspen was doomed because visitors were losing places to stay. I suppose that person could have never imagined Airbnb.
I remember clearly thinking, “what the …?” If the national economy was booming, Aspen was at ground zero of a blossoming mushroom cloud of economic prosperity. Locals noted town had never been so crowded. You couldn’t find a place on the sidewalks to watch the Fourth of July parade. Nonetheless, we, or more precisely City Council, fell for the developers’ pillow talk. We changed our priorities to emphasize hotels at the cost of affordable housing.
We are running a marathon. Those who want to live and work here are the lithe striders settled into a cadence suitable for the long haul. Developers are sprinters going as fast as they can, a block at a time, with no intention of finishing the race themselves. They have turned an endurance event into a relay race. We try to maintain a sustainable pace but can’t catch our breaths, futilely trying to keep up while they move rapidly forward, nonstop, continually handing off the baton to another fresh mad dasher.
Our first reaction to any new development proposal should be to say “no.” Say it once, say it twice, however long it takes to slow the heart rate and swish a little energy drink around in our cheeks. It’s necessary to slow developers down to match our more prudent pace to reach the finish line that is beyond what we can see at the moment. We’ll run again as soon as the stitch in our side subsides.
We should never make concessions to developers. Contrary to what they must be teaching at Developer School, rules are not made to be broken. Town doesn’t need another ski museum or the promise of an $8 hamburger. If they request variances, be assured they do not have the best interest of this town in mind. Give me an example where concessions granted resulted in Aspen becoming better. Not even Walter Paepke offering to paint local houses qualifies. He got to chose the colors.
We are a frog in the water about to boil. Affordable housing must become priority one in the development approval process. Not hotels. Not downtown vibrancy. Not more timeshares. Not even more open space or trails. We have plenty of all this stuff. The one thing we need most to remain the most desirable ski resort in the world is to never look or feel like a ski resort. We are a town first! That is what visitors like most about this place. That we have ski mountains in our front and back yards and on both sides of the driveway is just an excellent job of landscaping.
We should incentivize affordable housing to the point where developers are coming in with employee housing projects with perhaps a couple free-market units attached. Whatever developers have told us to keep us from adopting this principal all these years has been complete nonsense. And, yet, here we are still debating the issues they make up to further their causes. City Council members need to stop viewing themselves as deal makers and more as gatekeepers, although that is far less ego-gratifying.
New projects should provide housing for 100% of the new jobs they create. The silly logic for this proposition? Employees should live in the community they help prosper. How has this become debatable?
It seems the most popular weapon we deploy in our battle against growth has become to make fun of commercial developers with disparaging names and insults. It doesn’t work but is at least as effective as anything else we try.
Just 50 years ago most people who worked in Aspen lived in Aspen. There was no traffic. Then somebody planted the seed that we would all be better off with some new hotels and such. Here we are now, picking our seats on the bus, wondering if we are happier. We think we control development, but it has driven us out of our own town. We shifted our focus to making town beautiful, because that’s much easier. It is the low hanging fruit on the governance tree. Aspen looks more beautiful than ever.
Roger Marolt wonders: if developers are dirt pimps, whose pushing the drugs Aspen is tripping on? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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