Stone: Aspen cat and mouse — when the vermin always win
A Stone’s Throw
It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m a little groggy as I sit down to write this column.
Nothing new there, some might say, but my condition this particular morning is the result of our beloved cat waking us up at 4:30 in the morning in wild pursuit of a mouse.
Our cat is a deeply enthusiastic but thoroughly incompetent mouser. He’s great at catching them but he’s clueless about what to do once he’s got one. Our kitty is strictly a catch-and-release mouser. And although the mice certainly don’t enjoy the experience — to say the least — the cat is so gentle that they always escape his clutches unharmed.
Sometimes it feels as if we’re running a health spa for mice: vigorous exercise to keep them fit followed by deluxe snacking on the best organic foods from our cabinets.
So this morning, as usual, there was a great crashing and skittering and yowling and, finally, silence.
In short — as I look at today’s local news — our cat is almost exactly like the Aspen City Council: enthusiastic but incompetent when it comes to patrolling against invading pests. A great crashing and skittering and yowling and, in the end, nothing. Almost like a health spa to keep developers in peak physical condition: a vigorous workout followed by unlimited feasting.
I am referring, of course, to Monday night’s 4-1 vote of approval for the Base2 hotel at the corner of Main and Monarch.
The council members made a great show of claws and fangs, but in the end it was their incredibly gentle mouth that carried the day, as they voted to approve a building roughly double the size allowed by the zoning, with pretty much no real provision of the required parking for 37 hotel rooms.
And what does Aspen get in exchange?
Not much — except for a building that’s far too big.
The hotel is supposed to be “affordable,” but there are no guarantees of any kind that it really will be cheap, except that the rooms will be small. (Unless, of course, the rooms have connecting doors, in which case — shazam! — the small rooms become larger “suites” and the prices soar. But, gee, what good-guy developer could possibly resort to such an underhanded trick just to raise his profits? Impossible to imagine. Excuse me for even imagining it.)
It was impressive how council members found ways to bend over backward and justify their decisions.
When the issue of inadequate parking was raised, Councilwoman Ann Mullins pooh-poohed the concerns, saying, according to this newspaper, that it would be a “shame” for that “detail” to interfere with this project — and Mullins said she wasn’t worried because Aspen transportation may involve fewer cars in five to 10 years.
Seems like a reasonable basis for approving a hotel. I mean, gee, we’ve done so well limiting traffic in the past. I guess Mullins is counting on individual jet packs to whisk people into town.
But the biggest thing that emerged from Tuesday’s news stories was the council’s determination to spit in the face of the majority of local residents who voted, just a few scant weeks ago, to approve Referendum 1, forbidding the council from granting exactly the kind of zoning variances that were involved in Monday night’s Base2 approval.
To be clear, there seems to be no legal requirement that the council follow that vote by the public in this particular case, since this project was filed before the election.
But the lack of a legal requirement does not mean the council could not have accepted the ethical requirement to reject the variances that the people did not want the council to approve.
But they ignored the people’s very clear message. Indeed, they resent mere residents daring to tell them what to do.
As quoted in this newspaper, Councilman Adam Frisch said, “There’s always implied powers by the community when a (planned development) review comes forward. It has nothing to do with Referendum 1.”
Whoa! Hang on there, pal. In fact, it has everything to do with Referendum 1, which made it very, very clear that there was no “implied” power from the community. In fact, Referendum 1 was all about the community specifically withdrawing any powers, implied or otherwise, to grant these variances.
Councilman Art Daily said that referring the project to a public vote would be an inappropriate abdication of council responsibility.
Mayor Steve Skadron agreed, saying it would undermine the council’s judgment.
And Mullins said, “There’s a real difference between passing a variance that benefits an individual developer or property owner versus passing a variance that will help with a community benefit.”
These are all perfectly nice people, but they are in desperate need of some lessons in paying attention: Referring the variances to a public vote would not be “abdicating council responsibility” — because Referendum 1 removed that responsibility. It would not be “undermining the council’s judgment” — because the people have said they don’t want the council exercising its judgment in these decisions. And it is not a matter of balancing whether a variance offers developer benefit versus public benefit — because the people said no council-approved variances, no matter whom they benefit.
And when it was suggested that a petition drive might be launched to force a public vote on the hotel project, Councilman Adam Frisch made his contempt for the people very clear.
The Aspen Daily News reported that Frisch “said he’s had conversations with people who are ‘chomping at the bit’ to do so, and he practically dared them to move forward. ‘I personally welcome (a voter referendum) because I think it will pass,’ he said. ‘I welcome that if that’s how you want to spend your political capital — I wish you the best.’”
All in all, it’s almost enough to make me want to move back upvalley to Aspen — so I can run my mouse-loving cat for City Council.
He doesn’t pay any attention to what anyone says, either.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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