Ronner: Who are the classiest Aspenites?

The Aspen Daily News article, “Billionaire challenges impact fee on remodel” grabbed me. When I learned that billionaire Jeffrey Soffer was remodeling a 14,995-square-foot home in Starwood, I pondered my definition of “class.” 

The word “class” conjures up the image of my friend, a dedicated schoolteacher and mother who resides in employee housing. One day, she dashed up to me with arms spread as if she was trying to hug the universe and delivered news: She, like Soffer, is remodeling — finally, she is getting that new kitchen. Her exhilaration ignited my own clumsy rendition of the happy dance.  

Another friend, who lives in coveted employee housing, also personifies “class.” She toils at three demanding jobs, has had to save for years for her modest remodel, and is breathless as she plans. Incidentally, one employer, who requires her to wear a mask, recently told her that “only lower-class people transmit COVID.” 

Of course, the classiest of the “classy” are those who commute daily from down valley to ensure that the self-proclaimed elite have the services and amenities to which they deem themselves entitled. Some struggle to navigate a new language, endure lacerating verbal abuse, and dream of living where they work. 

The Employee Housing Impact Fee was born out of the unremarkable realization that Aspen, like other resort towns, struggles to retain employees because they are unable to secure housing. The fee, albeit imperfect, is one effort to mitigate tragic inequity. 

Soffer has sued, claiming that the county miscalculated his fee of $949, 086 and seeks a refund, plus interest. His net worth is about $1.7 billion, making him “the world’s 1,737th richest person.” The Pitkin County Assessor’s Office gave his Starwood home a fair market value of $44.5M. 

But who is Soffer? He might rightfully insist that he has worked hard for what he has. I happen to know that he is kind, gives to charity, and has retained superb ethical attorneys who would not file a lawsuit that did not pass the laugh test. As an attorney for decades, I have asked some clients to consider not suing despite that hefty retainer flirting with me from the edge of the desk.

If on principle, Soffer proceeds and prevails, he might consider donating his award to help Aspen house our heroic employees. That is a “classy” thing to do.                  

Dr. Amy D. Ronner