Stone: Playing Whack-a-Weasel with Aspen’s future
October 18, 2014
How do we get ahead of the curve?
How do we know when and where the next mole is going to pop up in the giant Aspen Whack-a-Mole sweepstakes?
To the jarring cartoon music of an arcade game, the newest terrible idea leaps out of its hole in the ground, jeering at us — and by the time we swing the hammer — well, that's where the Aspen version of the game is different. In the arcade game, the moles pop up and then duck back down before you can hit them. Here in Aspen, the moles don't duck.
Heck no, this is Aspen. Our moles (they're really more like weasels, aren't they?) stand their ground, thumb their noses and jeer. "Nyah-nyah! Too late!"
It's too late because most people who care about Aspen can't pay attention full time. They're too busy scraping for a living and enjoying their lives — which is why we're all here (the enjoyment, not the scraping).
So by the time people realize what's happening and mobilize opposition, approvals have been granted and concrete is being poured.
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Three-story buildings? Sure! Four stories? Absolutely! Views? Open space? History? All gone!
Oh, you don't like that? Too late! It's a done deal.
We swing the hammer, but it's always too late to whack that mole.
We need to get ahead of the game.
We need a Mole Early Warning (MEW). No, that's too pathetic. "MEW" sounds like a tiny little kitten.
Let's get serious. Call the "moles" by the appropriate name and make it a WHACK: Weasel Hammer Can Kill.
And we need those WHACK alerts — because even our victories are in danger of turning into defeats when the weasels rise again.
Like the lodge incentive giveaway … I mean, ordinance — you know, the one that would have allowed a flock of brand-new four-story hotels across the base of the mountain in order to somehow "revitalize" existing lodges.
The town rose up and stopped that one with a last-minute "Tess Trueheart tied to the tracks" rescue that seemed more like fake, old-time melodrama than serious city governance.
It counted as a victory for the good guys.
But just recently, a couple of top Skico executives spoke to the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and expressed their deep unhappiness with that result. They were disgusted with the utter nerve of residents expressing strong opinions about the future of their city.
The execs praised the City Council for having done a "phenomenal job" on that ordinance. They implied that those who opposed it were yokels who can't appreciate Aspen's "urban-like energy." They accused the opposition of yearning for a return to the "Quiet Years" of Aspen's destitution (as they see it). And they urged the assembled chamber members to get back out there and fight! More development! Bigger buildings!
The people hammered it down, but Skico and the chamber are determined to pop it back up.
Time for a WHACK alert!
And then there's the airport.
Our recently departed airport manager has left us with plans for a behemoth of a terminal, along with bigger runways (primarily for bigger private jets) and a massive underground parking garage — sort of like an Egyptian pharaoh leaving plans for his pyramid.
And this week we've seen the three top candidates for the new airport manager: 1. The "local" guy, just two years out of Duluth, Minnesota, where he was the airport operations director while they were building their new 110,000-square-foot terminal (complete with a 400-seat passenger waiting area). 2. A guy fired from his job running the Salt Lake City airport after just five months on the job by the mayor, who said he had to act "urgently" to get someone else "who can provide team-building, accessible, competent leadership at the city's airports." 3. A guy fresh out of a top executive position at the Los Angeles International Airport.
All clearly perfect matches for Aspen — and one of these three will guide our little airport toward a decision on the "pyramid" project.
And they keep insisting that "just because we approve it doesn't mean we're going to build it."
And then there's the RFTA project at Rubey Park. Not a "bus stop" or even a "terminal."
No, no! It's a "transit center."
And, with an important name like that, it certainly needs an important new building.
And that's what it is apparently going to get despite a host of strong public objections — which no one seems to be paying any attention to.
To be sure, RFTA's ambitions aren't as pharaonic as those of the monument-obsessed airport crew. But hey, not every pyramid can be the Great Pyramid.
Is it too late to stop this mistake?
And then there's the mess out at Snowmass.
What are they doing out there?
That's not a rhetorical question. I have no idea what the heck they're up to.
And neither do they.
They've been wrestling in that mud pit for almost a decade now, and they still can't figure out what they're doing.
And now the Town Council has fallen to squabbling with one another amid charges of unethical behavior.
Meanwhile, there's a roundabout that seems to be a done deal — even though some vital, long-standing businesses may be crippled by the design.
But here's the real question: What else is lurking in the shadows?
What other enormous, ill-considered projects are on the drawing board — or even deep into the approval process?
What new half-baked ordinance is the city about to consider and approve without really knowing the consequences?
What other semi-ethical collusion? What other heedless self-aggrandizement? What other naked grab for cash?
What rough beast slouches to Aspen to be born?
I don't know.
And when we find out, will it be too late?
"Mr. Mayor! The city's in trouble. Turn on the searchlight. Activate the alert! This is a job for … for …"
For the Weasel Hammer.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.