Sean Beckwith: A permanent fact of life in Aspen
Affordable housing stories are to The Aspen Times what LeBron James content is to ESPN. If we were a 24/7 take outlet that incessantly searched for clicks, the affordable housing crisis would lead “First Take” every day that Lauren Boebert doesn’t.
I don’t watch those shows so my satyr with this isn’t what it should be, but I imagine Steven A. Smith and whoever is playing the Skip Bayless troll part would take opposite positions on density of projects, placement, Lee Mulcahy and the very idea of subsidies.
The cable news analogy/version of this column definitely has a fake Tucker Carlson “I’m not saying people who occupy affordable housing are dirty, burnt out, drug addicts, but let’s explore that notion further …” storyline that probably ends with me getting fired for fake Tucker saying something too racist.
However, that characterization of people who occupy affordable housing as somehow uncouth is a thing that has happened, is currently happening and will likely be used as reasoning to deny housing proposals in the future.
The current one is the 1020 E. Cooper Ave. project that was denied by Aspen’s Historical Preservation Commission, which said the proposal was too dense. The developer appealed the ruling, which will be reviewed Tuesday.
Here’s developer Jim DeFrancia on the HPC’s decision from Carolyn Sackariason’s story on March 1:
“‘I was shocked,” DeFrancia said of HPC’s vote. “When you file an application that is fully compliant, it meets the code, it follows the Aspen Area Community Plan and fits in with public policy, what’s not to like?’
Nearby residents of the property said in their public comments they were concerned the residents of the units, local qualified workers, would disrupt the neighborhood with noise, trash and pot smoking, to name a few objections.
They asked for a smaller project with fewer people.
‘The public comments were preposterous,’ DeFrancia said. ‘There were ridiculous judgments about the character of the people living there.’”
Appalling broad generalizations aside, let’s look at density. It’s not so much that the project would sleep 13, it’s that it would house 13. These vacation homes can and sometimes do comfortably sleep 13.
While I’m sure there are plenty of houses in Aspen that are appropriately sized for the lot they’re on, there are a number of properties with houses so massive that there’s no yard to speak of on the lot.
This idea that a proposal is somehow not in line with Aspen’s character because it’s maximizing the space provided is the antithesis of what a lot of private homeowners have done. I understand there’s difference between a resident and a guest, but your behemoth isn’t less offensive because 11 of those 13 beds aren’t occupied year-round.
Now, a quick check on how more cars would affect the city’s parking problem. After further review, yup, still a shit show. Parking issues will never be fixed in Aspen. How long has parking been an issue in New York? If there was some magic trick to create more parking spaces, cities that have had a dearth of parking for decades would’ve figured it out by now. There’s a Nobel Peace Prize in the pot of gold at the end of the fairy tale rainbow for whomever fixes not just Aspen’s parking shortage but any parking shortage.
And finally, regarding the broad generalization about occupants of affordable housing, I’d invite you over to see that I don’t live in squalor, but I don’t think we’d get along so rain check. I’d like to meet the people who decorate their homes with garbage. Honestly, the would-be neighbors should be happy their next-door neighbors have experience keeping trash locked up and away from the prying paws of black bears.
If it’s like an HOA thing where you don’t like your neighbors leaving their toys out, that’s unreasonable. The only thing more rare than affordable housing in Aspen is affordable housing in Aspen with enough storage. Yeah, some skis and a kayak might be on a deck, so what?
As far as my favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite times infinite complaint about the hard-partying, loud, pot-smoking people of our fair affordable housing goes, can we not? Who does more partying: People on vacation or people working 40 hours a week?
Even the most cocaine-enhanced local will be absent for part of your life five days a week. Take a look around at the people we so willingly welcome: Front Range bro brahs bump EDM at all hours; that sweet Southern family puts back more bourbon in a week than I do in a season, and I like bourbon; ask a budtender how many locals they’ve seen go on a Toy-R-Us-type shopping spree; and small children tend to scream very loud when they’re having fun (but also in general). (I can’t defend some of these ultra-seasonal housing complexes — Club Commons, Burlingame, etc. — because when you foster a dorm-like atmosphere, you’re going to get dorm-like residents.)
The very first piece I wrote for The Aspen Times five or six years ago was a guest column about the eternal search for affordable housing in Aspen, and in the years since, not much has changed. I hate repeating topics to the point that I’ve written some objectively terrible columns solely to avoid ranting about the same five subjects.
The reason affordable housing is so paramount is because people are what gives a place its character. What makes an Aspenite is an outsized dedication to the mountains and the lifestyle they provide, a little weirdness and a willingness to deal with the tradeoffs that come with high cost of living. That last one wasn’t always such a burdensome requisite, but now, it’s as unavoidable as LeBron on ESPN.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.