We Have Met the Enemy
by Seth Cagin
05.17.10 - 01:29 pm
Over in Crested Butte, the news is that the U.S. Forest Service has rejected the first appeal by the ski company of the denial of an expansion proposal. The same week, the Crested Butte Board of Zoning and Architectural Review rejected an application for a large hotel, after more than two years of process, on the basis that it was simply too big for the town.

These developments led the editor of The Crested Butte News to suggest in an editorial that perhaps No means Yes.

“Those opposed to both Sixth Street Station [the hotel] and Snodgrass [the ski area expansion] will contend that the decisions made this week are actually a Yes to the idea of being a small resort community,” wrote Mark Reaman in an editorial column. “It could be argued that the message is for the community to focus on being a second-home resort with some tourism. A gated community, if you will. The valley will still have some of the amenities associated with a ski resort but it will be smaller than, say, a Telluride. Is that sustainable for people wanting to make a life here? I’m sure it is for some.”

It is interesting that Reaman cites Telluride as something bigger that Crested Butte may or may not want to be. Because in Telluride, No may mean Yes, too. We’ve shot down a big hotel or two here on the grounds that they are too big for our town. Those concerned about the possibility that the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. may seek to expand into Bear Creek look approvingly and with hope to the Snodgrass decision by the U.S. Forest Service.

We could probably all agree that bigger is not always better and that small can be beautiful. But Reaman is worried, as I am, about the sustainability of his community.

“If continued physical growth is not the way to go, what is?” he asks. “What is the idea, the path or the plan to bring success to this end of the valley? I’m talking about success in terms of the lifestyle, the economy and the environment.

“Is there a template that allows people to comfortably earn a living and raise a family here (and that involves real income) without growth? I’ve always been a believer in slower, smarter growth but I am respectfully asking for the successful alternative strategy.

“If ‘physical’ growth is not the desire of this community or the Forest Service, does that mean we will have to shrink to fit with the size ski resort that is already up there? Rely on Nordic skiing? Buff out more mountain bike trails? Just accept the demographic of Extreme Skiing as a primary draw? Will there be a few more empty spaces downtown or are there businesses that fit into the idea of a ‘physical’ no-growth model that would be workable?”

I am quoting Reaman at length because I could have written pretty much the same words about Telluride.

Mark, I feel your pain.

You and I both operate newspapers in communities that that are fiercely anti-growth. There is no doubt something admirable in the rejection by a community of business-as-usual, a community that says, “We want to do it differently, better, smaller, more sustainably. We are not and do not want to be Vail.”

But at what point do we fail to provide an economy that can sustain those who do not have an independent source of income?

I would imagine Mark would agree with me that a community may reduce itself to non-existence by continually saying “No.”

Like Reaman, I believe in slower, smarter growth. I don’t want to see unbridled growth in Telluride, or unthinking growth. I dream of planned growth, strategic growth, growth that nourishes a sustainable community. But I fear we are so reflexively no-growth in our local culture that good growth is next to impossible and the growth that we do get, because it is “by right” within existing zoning and can’t be stopped, is not really in our best interests.

Why would a couple of newspaper guys be the ones to continually make this argument? Especially since, in so doing, we risk being characterized as pro-growth and thus out-of-step with our readership?

The reason, I think, is that newspapers are so inextricably linked to the communities they serve. A newspaper can only do as well as its community, the publisher of a much bigger paper once told me. When our communities are suffering, we feel it directly; and we especially feel it when small businesses, who are our advertising base, are in decline. Small businesses are not only our advertising base, either. They are the community’s lifeline.

In his editorial, Reamon cites rising vacancies downtown as symptomatic of the disease and laments a future for Crested Butte as a “gated community.” I, too, have prophesied a Telluride that is a country club for the idle rich. Like Reamon, I would like my friends who believe that No means Yes to explain how they would have us avoid this lamentable outcome.

But how could the community be suffering from unreasonable no-growth passions if it is the very same community that expresses those passions and translates them into policy?

Well, the proud and defiant communities that remain in Crested Butte and in Telluride would not be the first of whom Pogo so famously said: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

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