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Aspen government officials doing a ‘stop, go’ on residential development

Moratorium on residential development and short-term rental permits in Aspen designed to be a pause so growth can be mitigated for

Residential construction in downtown Aspen on Monday.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen’s elected officials capped the year off of unprecedented real estate speculation when they abruptly put the brakes on residential development and the issuance of permits for short-term rentals via emergency ordinance.

Aspen City Council and staff plan to hit the gas hard in the beginning of 2022 to start the complicated and controversial work to align the municipal government’s policies and land-use code with what they see as unmitigated growth in the residential sector of the community.

The residential moratorium is in place until June 8, with the short-term rental pause scheduled to be lifted after Sept. 30.



Leading up to those dates, the city will hire outside consultants to assist the community development team in executing new policies and regulations.

Those policy changes and scope of work will be directed by council, which will be discussed in public meetings in January, according to Phillip Supino, the city’s director of community development.



“We want to work with diligent speed to respond to council’s direction,” he said. “We really want to short circuit the front end of the process to get to the work.”

By February, a community engagement process will begin that includes members of the real estate, development and vacation rental industries, along with non-industry residents.

“All manner of citizens” are welcome to join the process, Supino said, adding that he asks the public to track the work through council agendas, the media and the community development department’s newsletter. “We’re excited about the level of interest in the community and it’s important to council to have that buy-in.”

There is currently opposition mounting against the moratorium with a citizen-initiated ordinance that seeks to repeal council’s actions.

Its organizers, local real estate agents Bill Guth and Bob Bowden, got the language of their proposed ordinance approved by City Clerk Nicole Henning on Friday.

They have up to 180 days to collect 993 signatures of registered Aspen voters, which is 15% of the electorate.

If they are successful and all of signatures are certified by Henning, the council has 20 days from then to review the ordinance.

If council rejects the initiative, it will go to a special election not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days from elected officials’ decision, according to City Attorney Jim True, citing state statute.

Guth said Monday that the initiative is available for city electors to sign at the Aspen law office of Garfield and Hecht P.C.

Other locations and opportunities to sign have not yet been determined, he added.

Those who work in the development community will be asked to participate as subject experts when the work gets to a more detailed level regarding changes to affordable housing mitigation calculations for new growth, and other potential land-use code regulations.

“We are kind of building the plane while we are flying it,” Supino said. “We’ll have a template ready and by February, we’ll have the right resources for staff in place.”

Council members expressed their support earlier this month to pay for outside consultants to help city staff with the workload, and Supino said the internal team is looking at 12 different vendors that could possibly join the effort.

“The direction from council was to bring in the best resources while being good stewards of public dollars,” he said.

One of the bigger changes that is likely to come out of the moratorium is connecting the land-use code with the city’s climate action plan, which has not been done before, Supino noted.

City officials, as stated in Ordinance 27 that put the moratorium in place on Dec. 8, cite the negative effects on the environment as a result of the fast pace of redevelopment of free-market residences.

Those properties need construction vehicles, consume energy, require sourced materials from elsewhere and produce solid waste, among other impacts.

Specific to the residential sector, cars and trucks on the road contribute to 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Aspen and construction trucks represent 50% of vehicles on the road in the city in a year, according to city officials.

In 2019, residential properties accounted for 29% of Aspen’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and 75% of the landfill is currently being filled with construction and demolition waste, according to the city.

City officials further argue that the impacts of speculative real estate activity is putting negative pressures on the local workforce, available housing and the quality of life that is emulated in the Aspen Area Community Plan, which is a guiding document that is used to make policy decisions.

The pause on residential development for up to six months and the issuance of permits on short-term rentals for up to nine months is to allow city officials to align current land-use code regulations, the AACP and the affordable housing program in an attempt to mitigate growth and the changing use in the local real estate market.

The idea of the moratorium was created organically as council members in recent months individually voiced their concerns to upper-level staff members who carried the initiative forward, Supino said.

“It’s the coming together of ideas in response to problems statements made by council members,” he said.


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