Stone: Is Aspen ready for democracy? Um … not so much
A Stone’s Throw
For months, people told me that I needed to meet Mark Hunt, Aspen’s latest big-time developer. I should sit down and talk with him, they said. He’s a really nice guy. Once I met him, I would understand the good things he wants to do for Aspen.
I resisted those suggestions.
It’s not that I thought they were wrong. I’m sure Mr. H is a nice guy — or, more to the point, I am certain that he can convincingly present himself as a nice guy when appropriate.
My problem is that I am too easily led astray by nice guys.
I want to like people. Really, I do.
But when it comes to writing about developers in Aspen, I prefer to base my opinions on the things that they actually do — not on their pretty promises or cheerful smiles.
As anyone who has spent time in Aspen bars at closing time can tell you, promises are broken as easily as they are made.
And as for pretty smiles — well, that Hamlet fellow put it best: “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!” (And that was before he went all X-rated and started babbling about bared bodkins — if I can say that in a family newspaper.)
I have to admit that I am mentioning all this in the magnanimous spirit of “Nyah-nyah! Told you so!”
I mean, has there ever been such a shamefully revealing performance as that fuster-cluck at Monday’s City Council meeting?
I shouldn’t focus too much energy on Mr. Developer-of-the-Year Hunt — it wouldn’t be fair to the other players in that disgraceful display of government gone wrong.
The City Council certainly did its part, covering itself in shame.
And the city attorney jumped in to round off the show with his impersonation of (to stick with my Shakespeare theme) the Fool in “King Lear,” who said, “He that has and a little tiny wit / With hey, ho, the wind and the rain / Must make content with his fortunes fit / Though the rain it raineth every day.”
No, I have absolutely no idea what that means — which is why it reminds me of the city attorney’s tap dance on Hunt’s “now you see it, now you don’t” hotel application.
OK. Time out for clarification.
We’re talking about the Olympic-quality triple backflip with a double twist that Hunt and the council pulled off Monday.
To recap: Facing a citizens’ petition requiring an election to overturn the council’s approval of his oversized hotel at Main and Monarch, Hunt formally withdrew his application about a week ago. He filed a legal letter, saying his hotel was — to switch my references from Shakespeare to Monty Python — a dead parrot: expired and gone to meet his maker, kicked the bucket and joined the bleeding choir invisible!
No question about it.
Then, on Monday, when the council was apparently going to be forced to follow the silly laws and formally withdraw their approval of his withdrawn application (you can see why I’m resorting to Monty Python), Hunt flipped and said, Wait! I withdraw my withdrawal. Let’s have the election. Let the people decide.
Meanwhile, the council members, who had ignored objections to the hotel before they approved it and then ignored demands that they put the project to a vote — until an election was forced on them by the petition process — suddenly decided that the only thing that really matters is the voice of the people.
“The petitioners asked us to let the people speak,” said Mayor Steve Skadron. “I think we should let the people speak. … When we vote, we make the government and community better. I think voting is morally significant.”
Almost as morally significant as sticking to your principles. Whatever they might be.
Meanwhile, the city attorney scampered around like a ferret on amphetamines. First, he declared that the letter withdrawing the application was so absolutely legally binding that the council did not have to vote to rescind its approval.
No council vote or public election was required, he said. That parrot was dead.
Then he said, Dead? What’s that? Who’s dead? The council can vote to reanimate the project despite the formal withdrawal.
“It’s alive, I tell you! Alive!” (That’s “Frankenstein,” by the way, not Python or Shakespeare.)
Then the attorney said that, well, the reanimation might be legally tricky, and lawsuits were possible, but the city would stand behind the council’s decision.
The classic yes-no-maybe.
“It’s sort of alive!”
It occurs to me that I’ve been flattering everyone with my Shakespeare/Monty Python/“Frankenstein” references.
In fact, the city show really was more reminiscent of Gilda Radner’s hopelessly confused complainer, Emily Litella, in the early years of “Saturday Night Live.”
Litella would launch into a rant about — for example — people who spent too much time worrying about “endangered feces.” Eventually, someone would explain that it was “endangered species, not feces,” and she would give a little smile and croak, “Never mind.”
Except, Aspen being Aspen, our show didn’t have just one confused crank. There was an entire Greek chorus. Make that geek chorus.
First, Mark “The People’s Pal” Hunt, who declared, “No election! Never! I quit! It’s dead!”
And then said, “Never mind.”
Then the city attorney, who declared, “The letter withdrawing the application is final. It’s legally binding!”
And then, “Never mind.”
And finally the City Council, which seemed to say any damn thing that came to mind, most of all that the council members were masters of the city’s fate and no election would be held.
And then, “Never mind.”
But after all the Greek weasel chorus of “Never mind,” after the developer acting like a developer, the attorney writhing like an attorney and the politicians equivocating like politicians, one single voice actually did come through loud and clear.
Councilman Bert Myrin, proving that winning an election is not the inevitable first step toward ignoring the will of the people, said that the hotel application had been withdrawn and it was dead. Period.
And then he wrapped it up neatly:
“You can’t trust any developer in this town, especially Mark Hunt.”
Thank you, Bert!
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.