Blumenthal: Fool us twice, shame on Planning Commish | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Fool us twice, shame on Planning Commish

Mel Blumenthal
Second View
Mel Blumenthal

A nagging question I keep asking myself: Why in the world would anyone in their right mind grant Related an extension of its vested development rights without first seeing it plans for the completion of Base Village?

For close to 10 years, Related has made numerous promises and commitments to our community concerning Base Village, a substantial majority of which it has reneged on. It’s now before the town once again making a plea for an extension of its vested development rights, and as quid pro quo for such extension, it’s offering many of the same or similar promises it’s made in the past and again asking us to trust it without backing up its promises with any tangible financial security or corporate parental guarantees in case it reneges again. History has a curious way of repeating itself, particularly when the party making the promise, in this case Related, has such a long and disturbing history of failing to honor its commitments.

First let’s understand that even if Related is not granted an extension of vesting, which is set to expire on Nov. 3 of this year, it doesn’t automatically lose its development rights. So why is the extension so important to Related? First, the extension would continue to protect it from having to adhere to any new land-use-code changes that have come into existence since the original Base Village approvals were granted almost 10 years ago. The most significant change is an increase in employee-housing mitigation, which Related desperately wants to avoid.

But the real key to the puzzle is that Related needs a hefty period of extended vested development rights accompanied by very little liability, if any, in order to maximize the asset value of Base Village in order to sell it off prior to completion to some other developer for a ton of cash the same way Aspen Skiing Co. did shortly after receiving its Base Village development approvals from the town.

Let’s not be fooled again by what may appear on the surface to be attractive promises.

Regrettably but realistically, it’s best to stay the course with Related but keep it on a very short leash to accelerate the completion of what it started and not have to start all over with a brand-new developer. It’s best to keep dealing with the devil we know until it’s completed the approved work and then bid it a fond farewell.

As I mentioned in my previous column, we’re nothing more than an irritating pimple on Related’s corporate ass, but better we continue to irritate it than give it the keys to the candy store so it can continue to run all over us as it has done in the past.

A significant part of the town’s leverage in dealing with Related derives from the town’s power to grant extensions of its vested rights. Thus it would be prudent for the town to cautiously dole out such extensions only when we’re comfortable with Related’s revised plans, which it will present to us in October, and only if it accedes to a demand for significant financial security and/or corporate parental guarantees to ensure it does what it promises.

The first opportunity to take a bit of corrective action occurred at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, but unfortunately the majority of the commission members present failed to comprehend the underlying dynamics of Related’s thinking and are poised to continue trusting Related’s promises well into the future without the backup of any sound financial security measures or guarantees.

Cleverly, Related has conditioned its request on meeting a set of milestones (formerly referred to as “kill switches” but from a PR standpoint changed to a more benign nomenclature). But first it wants the extension in its pocket, which would allow it to do all kinds of mischief and then worry later about convincing our Town Council to ignore any missed milestones. Best of all, since one of Related’s “shell” subsidiary corporations currently has title to Base Village, it has very little skin in the game. Without any financial security or corporate parental guarantees to the town, Related loses very little, if anything at all, by merely folding up its operation and leaving us holding an empty bag once again.

Let’s not be fooled again by what may appear on the surface to be attractive promises. This time around, let’s do what should have been done in the first place. Require Related to show us its plans before we consider granting it any reprieve. If we like what it proposes, require Related to provide adequate security and/or guarantees to ensure completion on an acceptable timetable. That way, if it reneges again, at least we’ll have access to adequate financial resources to complete the mess it started.

Why is that not a sound idea? For some unexplained reason, most Planning Commission members were unable to get their heads around this concept and even got teary-eyed listening to Related’s self-serving stories and worthless promises.

Hopefully brighter minds on the Town Council will be much more thoughtful and strategic when considering Related’s pleas, scheduled for Aug. 18.

The Planning Commission decisions are merely recommendations to the council and, at the council’s discretion, can be ignored, which in this case would be advisable.

Let your elected representatives know if my commentary makes practical and strategic sense, or let me know at secondview@earthlink.net.


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