House held hostage

Lance K. Pugh

I served on the Ashland Planning Commission for eight years, beginning in the middle of the '70s. I was appointed as the token "hippie," apparently to make the whole planning process more believable. At that time most of the town did not believe in the need for thinking ahead, for the town had grown and prospered mostly due to the power of Ashland Creek, the Concord stagecoach road, the railroad, old Highway 99 and finally the blessing and bane now called Interstate 5.

Richard Box, now Dr. Box, is an associate professor of public administration in the Graduate School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Back then he was our city planner and had a staff of three, which did a great job. It was during one of my first meetings that I got a real whiff of what passed for taking in the larger view of community development.

Ashland has had its share of Golden Gooses parade about, some real, some imagined, most forgotten. Some miles up Dead Indian Memorial Road exists a place once referred to in rants, raves and rose-toned tales as Shale City. One entrepreneur, now referred to as a snake oil salesman, sold the town on the prospect of constructing a grand retort to extract oil from the shale deposits and send the liquid gold down into Ashland's awaiting coffers. Many residents raided their mattresses and piggybanks to invest in what was then assumed to be a sure thing. Unfortunately, the retort melted, exploded, imploded and otherwise flew to pieces when pressed to perform. The assembled town folk collectively ratcheted their necks around in a knot of concern as the project proponent disappeared in a cloud of dust, never to appear again.

Armed with a little history, I sat as a planning commissioner as listened, lo these many years ago, to the foregone conclusion that the Ashland Hills, a then proposed accommodations/restaurant/banquet facility would be constructed for the economic benefit of the entire community, save one inconvenient feature: A single pre-existing house would sit within the parking lot, surrounded by a twelve foot wall. A fence was ruled out, for fear that an errant car might back into the bedroom.

It seemed that the homeowner declined to sell to the proponents of the development at the offered price, so the project was going to proceed, according to the leaders of the community, leaving the out-gunned resident with no option other than driving through a parking lot, unlocking a massive gate and tucking his uncooperative self behind a wall of denial.

The project was presented to the planning commission in the old council chambers, then located on the second story of city hall on the Plaza. Ironically our police jail cell was located just below the packed, hot and stuffy room which had folding chairs for about four dozen. By the end of the evening I had about 10 candidates for that single cell, but, as I had no authority to incarcerate and given that the crowd was frothing for approval for that decade's version of a retort, I sat back and listened. I had the temerity to refer to a proponent as a "prevaricator," which gave me a first hand view of the power of a single word. That gentleman instantly sported throbbing veins and his top shirt button popped just before he yanked at his tie. I looked about the audience. Most were infuriated with me, though not all knew the meaning of the word. It was enough for them to see the effect the word had on their spokesman.

The meeting went on past midnight and eventually passed, though with the condition that holding a house hostage would not be permitted. The complex was opened some months later to the open adulation of most of the town. Over the years I attended many lunches, dances, banquets and other functions at the facility. At some point Ashland Hills closed their bar and kitchen, apparently no longer the darling of those important. The gush of revenues again missed Ashland's lock box, but the city does have the rooms to tax.

Lance was last seen trying to wring crude oil out of plastic bags and all was going well until he tried to run his electric lawn mower on it.You can help straighten him out at

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