Not sustainable

Very interesting article in the Rocky Mountain News today.

It's not everyday that you find a connection to Bermuda out there, but the Aspen city council just turned down a request for the first new luxury hotel development in 20 years....because it wasn't sustainable.

How sensible. That decision didn't include have to consider overturning all sorts of long-standing environmental restrictions either from what I can tell.

But by a 3-2 vote, the council ruled that it would not approve new hotel rooms at any cost. At 175,000 square feet, the lodge would have been the second-biggest building in town.

Besides 80 hotel rooms, the project also would have included four residential condos at 4,000 square feet each and 21 fractional ownership suites.

The hotel also promised to rise to the standard and price point of the town's three flagship lodges: The Hotel Jerome, St. Regis and the five-star Little Nell.

"We cannot only court the high end, and that's what this project did," Aspen City Councilman Jack Johnson said. "This sort of project and this sort of economy we have is not sustainable."

In the past 30 years, Aspen has gone from a town that nearly elected Hunter S. Thompson as sheriff in 1970 to a place where private planes line the runway at the airport and the average single-family home costs nearly $6 million.

Although the local affordable-housing program is the envy of other mountain resorts, reasonable rental accommodations are still a rare find. Local employers, from existing hotels to the school district, still have a tough time finding and keeping employees.

With much of the work force living in communities down the valley, a traffic jam chokes the entrance to town every workday.

Mick Ireland, who has been Aspen's mayor since June, said he could not approve a project that would further stress the housing and traffic problems. While there is a need for more moderately priced lodging in Aspen, Ireland said the need for more $1,000-per-night rooms was nil.

"I think we have to think about scaling back our mission," Ireland said. "In the resort-community balance, I think we've lost our balance."

The similarities seem quite compelling. I'd say Aspen made the right call, and our guys blew it. But this was always a done deal, with the Premier and his Government acting as the developers' chief marketer, forgetting that they represent the public interest, not private ones.

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