Stone: Redevelopment: In search of the buried pony
Well, now that the massive, character-changing redevelopment of downtown Aspen is a done deal (Solid blocks of tall buildings? Check. Four-story hotels at the base of the mountain? Check. A monster new airport terminal with bigger runways to accommodate huge new private jets? Check. Repaving of the malls to accommodate high heels? Pending), it’s time to cast our gaze at other valley communities that are putting it all on the line to find new character.
First up: Snowmass.
Those who argue that government is incompetent and that private enterprise always knows best ought to be dragged out to Snowmass Village, which private enterprise has drop-kicked right into a mud pit comparable to the one from which the town’s new mascot — an ice-age mammoth — was retrieved after a 100,000-year dirt nap.
(Let us hope that the town can drag itself onto firmer ground in less time than that — although given how long the current “redevelopment” has been underway, one has to wonder. Perhaps instead of adopting the mammoth and mastodon as local symbols, the town should focus on another fossil from that ice-age mud pit: a giant ground sloth. Not “Snowmastodon” but “Slothmass.” Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?)
Snowmass has been crippled from its founding by the absence of a real Base Village — it was in the original plans but was dropped when the money ran out. So everybody was excited a decade ago when big money came to town and promised to finally build that Base Village.
Then the money ran out — again! — and now, years later, the project remains in the limbo of empty wallets and empty promises while the town government (certainly not blameless in this mess), Aspen Skiing Co. and the big-money developer perform an intricate dance on the muddy grave of hopes and dreams.
One town Planning Commission member declared the project “a blight on the community.”
The head of Skico said, “The unfinished condition in Base Village is damaging the brand. Our customers are losing patience.”
And the developer says, no problem — it can get it all finished in, oh, say, five years. For sure.
But when it was asked for a real promise on that, in the form of a completion bond? “The answer is ‘no,’” the company said.
And that, in a nutshell, is the Snowmass — or Slothmass — redevelopment: lots of promises, lots of half-finished buildings.
OK, let’s move to Exhibit B: Basalt.
Basalt is facing a bonanza of challenges and opportunities. (And let us not forget, the Chinese symbol for “opportunity” is the same as the symbol for “rabid- raccoon chow mein.”)
Like Snowmass, Basalt has been crippled by tragically bad decisions. In Basalt’s case, most of these came from the state Department of Transportation, which saddled the town with an entrance from Highway 82 that is reminiscent of a maze for lab rats, with the central business district the well-hidden cheese at the end of the twisty corridors.
Although those corridors won’t be straightened out any time soon, Basalt does have a grand opportunity to redesign a huge chunk of downtown, centered at the messy intersection of Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue — the impenetrable final hurdle of the lab-rat maze.
This serving of rabid-raccoon chow mein is on the menu because of the town’s acquisition and demolition of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park coupled with the possible redevelopment of the old supermarket and gas station that lurk nearby.
Basalt, being a groovy kind of town, decided to have a fling with citizen planning — in effect, saying to the town’s residents, “OK, kids! What do you want to do?”
The thought was that the people would come up with an infinity of clever ideas and then there would be an election to choose the best (i.e., most popular) plans, which the town would then follow.
Everyone from grade school kids to professional planners responded with drawings and bright ideas for a mix of buildings and parks — a total of 300 drawings incorporating 3,000 ideas (according to the town).
After that, as it says on Basalt’s Our Town planning website, “The 3,000 ideas that were generated by the community have been synthesized into Three Alternative Site Plans.”
Then a semi-formal online election was held, a winner was chosen, and everyone lived happily ever — oops!
Ah, yes. As T.S. Eliot almost said, “Between the idea and the reality falls the ‘oops!’”
The first hint of that approaching “oops!” was in the statement that all the people’s ideas were “synthesized” into three final choices. And that “synthesis” means that professional planners took the amateurs’ bright ideas and turned them into something else — something the planners approve of.
And so the residents begin to fade from the picture.
Then the town manager said the election would only eliminate one of the three options. After that, according to a story in this newspaper, “Architects working for the town will take the two options that received the most votes and use them to create more detailed drawings.”
So after the planners have “synthesized” the entries, architects will look at two of the synthesized choices and “create” new plans.
And the residents fade away even more as the architects’ plans use the planners’ synthesis of the residents’ ideas.
And, oh yeah, the town will add a brand-new plan with more development than anything “synthesized” from resident inspirations.
Meanwhile, some people are enraged because all the options that were offered for voting have too much development.
And now, suddenly, the town is forming a new committee to come up with some new “big” ideas for the Town Council to choose from.
As the optimistic child said in the punch line of a joke that does not bear repeating here, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
Or, as one letter to the editor said, “There are many other options if we are not just thinking profit and money to the few who could benefit from development.”
And — oops again — that brings us back to Aspen, doesn’t it? A redevelopment in progress.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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