Stone: Remedial education for City Council and PIMPs
It is, in a curious way, refreshing to see the current spate of news stories about squabbles over hotels.
It’s refreshing because it is a reminder of the days long ago when Aspen was a ski resort that offered hotel rooms to its guests — as opposed to the new Aspen: a real estate investment opportunity that offers ski runs as incidental amenities to its owners.
Unfortunately, that refreshing reminder lasts about as long as a refreshing swim at the lip of Niagara Falls — and, just like that quick swim, you know it’s not going to end well.
So be it: The new Aspen has arrived. Protest is futile. The future is feudal.
The hotel battles continue, but the outcome seems fated by the fact that some City Council members need remedial work on vocabulary and math.
The vocabulary lessons are for those who apparently have forgotten the meaning of words such as “preserve,” “small,” “town” and “character.”
Or maybe it’s not the individual words but the tricky, multi-word phrase that gets them: “preserve small-town character.”
It’s not a vocabulary problem. It’s attention span.
I don’t know if we need to speak very slowly so they can understand those difficult words — or talk really fast so their attention doesn’t wander.
The math problems seem equally simple — and equally challenging.
Challenging, anyway, to those who are determined to believe they can fit 10 pounds of, um, stuff in a 5-pound bag.
For those who have trouble with numbers, here’s a quick review: When it comes to sacks and stuff, 10 is bigger than five. Just as, when it comes to square feet of real estate development, 37,500 is bigger than 27,000. Those are big numbers, I know, but trust me: 37,500 really, really is bigger than 27,000.
Part of the problem may be that we’re overrun by PIMPs. (That’s Planners In Mathematical Purgatory. What did you think I was talking about?)
And while that battle (size of sack vs. size of load, meaning of “small,” etc.) continues for the Hotel Aspen, I admit that my attention has been diverted (talk about short attention span) by the newest horror story: the City Council’s consideration of a proposal to let hotels build four stories tall in order to get the “density” they need.
The only density here involves certain thick skulls.
In case anyone has forgotten (short attention span!): This town will forever bear the scars from the decision not very many years ago to encourage “new density” by increasing the allowable height of buildings downtown to three stories.
Uh-oh. Math again. Quick review: Three stories was too much! Therefore (and I’ll go slow here), four stories is also too much.
Am I going too fast?
OK. Here’s the simple version: Four is more than three.
Quick quiz: If Johnny has three apples and Suzie has four apples, who has more apples? (Hint: not Johnny.)
To be clear, this doesn’t apply just to apples. Four stories is more than three stories. Also, $4 million is more than $3 million. (And let’s be honest: Millions of dollars is really what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Just not chump change like 3 or 4 million. We’re talking real money here. The people squabbling over hotel development wouldn’t get out of bed for a mere three or four million bucks.)
Now, if it seems as if I’m being condescending and petty — well, of course I am! Look what we’re dealing with.
When the City Council met to consider the four-story idea, planners showed up to assure the council they could find locations where four stories would be appropriate.
(So can I: Vail. No offense intended. They like the tall buildings they’ve got over there in Vail, and that’s the way I like them, too — over there in Vail.)
The planners said that four stories would be fine if the new big buildings were placed in the appropriate spot: smack up against the bottom of the mountain.
Brilliant! Put the too-tall buildings right against the bottom of the mountain; that way everybody’s view will be blocked.
One of the amazing things about Aspen is the way the ski mountain just leaps up right out of the streets of the city.
Naturally planners think it’s a great idea to obscure that little miracle as much as possible.
Why look up at a mountain when you can go window shopping for T-shirts?
Of course, our ever-vigilant City Council is certain it can keep it all under control.
Dwayne Romero said (as paraphrased in this newspaper) that “Four-story structures should be allowed, but only if there are compelling reasons.”
Ah, yes, “compelling reasons.” I’m sure some developers can think of, quite literally, millions of very compelling reasons.
Ann Mullins said she “supported the idea on a case-by-case basis.” (Case by case. Lawsuit by lawsuit.)
Art Daily, not to be left out, said he, too, could “think of a few places in town where this is going to be appropriate.”
And Adam Frisch said he “can think of a few specific locations” for four-story buildings. He added, “I don’t see 30 different buildings in town 10 years from now having a fourth floor.”
The problem is not what Mr. Frisch can or cannot see. It’s what a starry-eyed developer can see.
Now, I’m not going to start delving into questions of “cynical” versus “naive” — that’s way beyond today’s remedial vocabulary lesson. But I am going to point out that when the Bible calls for the “lion to lie down with the lamb,” the lions all think that’s just a great idea.
And the lambs are in for a very rough night.
So buckle up, little lamb chop.
You’re about to be fleeced and filleted — for “compelling reasons” — “on a case-by-case basis.”
And that, my friends, is a very simple lesson that we apparently never learn.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is andy@aspen times.com.
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