Stone: Here’s why they set ‘Dumb and Dumber’ in Aspen
People ask why I’m always so nasty.
Well, frankly, there are a lot of nasty things that just plain need to be said. Saying them is part of my job description — and I must not shirk.
Still, sometimes I do yearn to be nice.
So today I am going to let my heart lead the way and start with kind words for Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron.
(And, sorry, Mayor Steve, I realize that my praise may not be something you welcome. Tough.)
Here we go: Steve Skadron deserves heartfelt praise for two courageous votes.
The first was several years ago, when, as a council member, he cast the only vote against the Aspen Art Museum. No need to go into details, I do believe. But he was the lone vote for blocking the behemoth.
And then, this past week, he voted against the city’s latest death-wish ordinance: the so-called “lodge incentive” program.
I toss my hat in the air and give a cheer for both of those votes.
Having thus stretched my niceness to the breaking point, I am forced to note, with deep regret, that the museum was approved 4-1 and the lodge-incentive disgrace passed 3-2.
So, though his votes were praiseworthy, Mr. Mayor Skadron should have done better than just settling for being on the losing side both times.
I guess he gets a pass on the museum. He was just a councilman then. One small (sadly, too small) voice. So be it.
But his inability this time around to find one more vote and actually stop the damned ordinance was a real failure. He is the mayor. He is supposed to lead. He should have found the voice and the courage and the eloquence to rally one more vote to his side and actually kill the beast.
And here’s the heart of the matter: This new set of rules has the potential to do more damage to Aspen’s character than any other ham-handed, half-considered regulatory mistake of recent disgraceful memory.
This ordinance is a dog’s breakfast of random ideas: bright, half-bright and downright stupid. Like an overflowing grocery bag run over by a dump truck, it is impossible to sort out the edible from the spoiled, the nutritional from the poisonous.
Consider this: The ordinance is stuffed with so many financial benefits for developers that no one can figure out what it will cost the city not just in lost revenue but in actual payments — tax dollars — going to developers in the form of grants, loans and rebates.
Chris Bendon, the city’s development director and one of the chief architects of this mess, was at least honest when he discussed the possible costs.
“We don’t know … what’s going to happen,” he said. And when he discussed his budget request to cover those costs for the first year, he admitted, “We could get halfway through the year and realize we need more money.”
We are talking about planning the future of downtown Aspen and expenses that might cost millions of dollars, and the best our leaders can do is shrug. The Alfred E. Neuman approach to planning. “What, me worry?”
After several years of development and a theoretically open public debate, this is not reassuring.
Curiously, the self-described fiscal conservatives who howl when liberal regulations cost the government money seem completely unfazed by this blank check for developers.
But the worst part — the part I have been screaming about for months now, ever since it raised its ugly head — is the plan to allow four-story hotels across the bottom of Aspen Mountain.
Let me say it again: a Berlin Wall of extra-tall hotels on the high ground at the base of the mountain.
Mountain? What mountain? You say this town has a mountain?
It is astonishing that anyone who cares about the character of Aspen could consider approving something like this.
Even more astonishing was the naivete — no, sorry, that’s just too polite. It is not naivete; it is, at the very least, willful ignorance on the part of city officials and some of the plan’s supporters. (Other supporters are, of course, simply being flat-out dishonest. But that, I think, is their job.)
According to the Aspen Daily News, Councilmen Dwayne Romero, Adam Frisch and Art Daily — the trio who voted for this mess — “said that the city would not be obligated to approve applications if council didn’t think they fit in with the neighborhood.”
And, the story went on, Frisch declared, “It’s not legally binding (on council) to sign off on anything.”
Hey, you! Wake up! Are you even listening to yourself? That is exactly the kind of half-bright thinking that led to the art museum: City officials were certain they could turn something down because it didn’t fit the character of the neighborhood; the developer (in effect) said, “Don’t give me that ‘character of the neighborhood’ crap”; the lawsuit was filed, the city surrendered — and, well, we all know that story.
Like it or not, we’ve got the art museum — and now we’re rushing recklessly to do it all over again.
But it will be even worse this time. Not one big building — many.
One local hotel manager who favors the new rules scoffed at the idea that the new hotels would soar to unacceptable heights.
“Nobody wants 70-foot buildings in our community,” he said, according to The Aspen Times.
Sorry, pal, but somebody will want exactly that — somebody who can picture himself making a whole lot of money with those 70-foot buildings.
And, as has happened over and over, a whole lot of money will outweigh — by a long shot — any petty little concerns about neighborhood character.
So here we go again.
As a great philosopher once said, “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to serve on the Aspen City Council.”
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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