Wedding war tears apart Aspen town: New York couple's extravagant plans including a custom built chapel and 27,000 square foot marquee causes bitter backlash from locals

  • Alexandra Steel and James Scott are getting married in Little Annie Basin near Aspen Mountain on Saturday
  • They're building a dance floor, 27,000-square foot tent and a temporary chapel in the rural meadow
  • Environmentally-conscious locals say the construction will cause traffic and damage the area
  • Property owner and wedding planner John Miller says the meadow will be restored after the event
  • Alexandra Steel's father is Aspen Institute chairman Robert Steel

By Associated Press and Rosemarie Lentini

The battle lines have been drawn in an environmentally-conscious Aspen community after a well-connected couple built a dance floor, 27,000-square-foot marquee and chapel on a pristine mountaintop.

Colorado residents are outraged at the 'over-the-top' construction at Little Annie Basin, a meadow on the backside of Aspen Mountain where New York's Alexandra Steel and James Scott will tie the knot on Saturday.

Alexandra Steel's father, Robert Steel, is the chairman of The Aspen Institute and was a senior official in the administration of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Neighbors have complained about the traffic, carbon footprint impact and potential damage to the meadow, zoned as 'rural/remote' to conserve the natural environment.

The property owner, who is also organizing the wedding, admits the event is larger than expected, but says opponents should 'live and let live'.

Getting hitched: Alexandra Steel and James (pictured at a New York event in 2012) are tying the knot in an elaborate Aspen wedding on Saturday

Getting hitched: Alexandra Steel and James (pictured at a New York event in 2012) are tying the knot in an elaborate Aspen wedding on Saturday

Alexandra Steel
James Scott

Elaborate: A chapel, 27,000-square-foot tent and dance floor is being built on an Aspen mountaintop for the wedding of Alexandra Steel (left) and James Scott (right)

The Aspen Times reported that scaffolding flooring, service tents and other temporary structures are also being built on the meadow, requiring hundreds of trips up Little Annie Road by service trucks and employee vehicles.

'What’s happening right now is over-the-top concerning anything that’s ever happened on the Little Annie Basin,' Glenn Horn, Little Annie Homeowners Association spokesman, told The Aspen Times at Wednesday's Pitkin Board of County Commissioners meeting.

'The impacts will be felt with the vegetation and ground recovery. There’s been no traffic control on the Little Annie Road, which is designated by the county as a primitive road.

'There was no notice to the neighbors about the impact of all the activity. There’s no type of erosion control. Last week, one neighbor counted 50 huge trucks in one day accessing the road up to the basin.'

 

Cindy Houben, director of the Pitkin County Community Development Department, said the pristine area could take years to rejuvenate after such a large-scale event.

'They’re not doing anything illegal, but the intensity of this event is extraordinary. It’s quite the ordeal,'
Houben told The Aspen Times.

'There’s a lot of concern regarding the recovery of the basin after this event. It’s a sub-alpine environment. Recovery in that area could take years.'

Backlash: Environmentally conscious residents are outraged a couple is building a dance floor, 27,000-square foot tent and a temporary chapel on a rural meadow at Little Annie Basin near Aspen Mountain, which they say will cause traffic and damage the area

Backlash: Environmentally conscious residents are outraged a couple is building a dance floor, 27,000-square foot tent and a temporary chapel on a rural meadow at Little Annie Basin near Aspen Mountain, which they say will cause traffic and damage the area

Opposition: Residents say the scaffolding erected in preparation for the planned June 14 wedding of Alex Steel, daughter of Aspen Institute chairman Robert Steel, at the top of Little Annie Basin, near Aspen, Colorado is bad for the environment

Opposition: Residents say the scaffolding erected in preparation for the planned June 14 wedding of Alex Steel, daughter of Aspen Institute chairman Robert Steel, at the top of Little Annie Basin, near Aspen, Colorado is bad for the environment

Father: Robert Steel, Aspen Institute chairman and former NYC Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, is the father of Alexandra Steel who is getting married on Saturday in Aspen

Father: Robert Steel, Aspen Institute chairman and former NYC Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, is the father of Alexandra Steel who is getting married on Saturday in Aspen

Wedding planner John Miller, who has owned the property for 32 years, acknowledged in a letter to the editor that the wedding has turned out to be a bigger project than he originally thought.

However he said the constructions were temporary and urged his neighbors to show patience toward a family that has contributed much to the community.

'Can we just live and let live, sit back and enjoy where we are privileged to live?' he wrote in a letter published by the Aspen Times.

Neighbors say the dispute stems from a loophole in zoning regulations.

In April, wedding planner John Miller initially approached Pitkin County planning staff seeking a temporary commercial-use permit for the wedding.

Staff said they didn't support the permit because 'of the scale and intensity of the operation'.

However a month later, Miller wrote to the county saying the wedding would be 'free of charge' after he found out who the bride's father was. This exempted him from seeking a commercial license, according to The Aspen Times.

Alexandra Steel, a Brown graduate, is the daughter of Robert Steel, chairman of the Aspen Institute and former Deputy Mayor for Economic Development for The City of New York.

She and her fiance live in New York and attend numerous society events. 

Pete Stouffer, who has lived on the Little Annie Basin side of Aspen Mountain for 25 years, said he couldn't believe anyone involved with the Aspen Institute would be a part of such a large-scale event in a rural and remote designated area.

'I think that someone that’s had the opportunity to see the beauty, the character and will of our community and still pull something like this off is incomprehensible to me,' Stouffer said. 'This person is not unaware, and they’re still doing this. That’s what bothers me as much as this event actually happening.'

Commissioner George Newman said the event shows you can be an 'ugly American' in your own country.

'It's unfortunate people come to our county because of the beauty and bring their values with them while not caring or not understanding our values,' he told the Aspen Times.

County commissioners will meet June 17 to discuss zoning and permitting changes to handle future big events in the resort area.


The comments below have not been moderated.

With her eyes and the length of his head, I am sure they will give birth to a Clydesdale. All should be forgiven.

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I know the Little Annie Basin area well. It's at a relatively high altitude with a very short growing season. Their idea of "restoration" probably means bulldozing the whole area an they trying to plan native grasses - but I can assure the impact will be visible for decades. And what non-locals don't understand is the hypocrisy. Walter Peapke, who founded the Aspen Institute, is rolling in his grave. Aspen has always attracted the rich and famous, but they used to go there to just blend in a be like everyone else. No, unfortunately Aspen has become a magnet for seflish ostentation. Rob Steel should be fired for this outrage, which is completely opposed to the founding principles of the Aspen Institute.

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'Can't we all "sit back and enjoy where we are privileged to live?" ... not if you tear it up, fool.

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27,000 square feet?!?!?!?!?! Thats the size of most small sized factories.

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Oh my! Aspen's version of the 99% attacking Aspen's version of the 1%. Use caution regular folks--this could become quite boring quite soon...

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It is just a temp setup, nothing compared to the jets and fool in ski season.

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I was on the side of the locals until I read that they were worried about the Carbon footprint - now I hope a Billionaire with no class moves in and builds a monstrosity.

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Funny, rich liberals against the regular liberals. Too funny!

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Who cares what they've done for the city? Aspen is a wealthy town. If not the Steeles, it would simply be someone else. You don't contribute to the community as payment for being able to do what you want when you want to do it. No one has the right to so overtly bother so many others. Shame on them

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I could understand the uproar if the changes were going to be permanent but they are not. And residents have already been told that the meadow will be restored to its former state. So not exactly sure what the problem is...?

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You obviously don't know much about reclamation and restoration of sensitive areas - nor the impact that the feet of hundred of people have on pristine soil.

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