ASPEN - Many of Aspen's condominiums generally suffer from a lack of maintenance and upgrades in large part because of the way the city's land-use code treats them, according to the findings of a new study discussed Tuesday during a City Council work session.
Earlier this year, the city commissioned local planner Alan Richman to explore what steps could be taken to bolster the condominium market, which represents 40 percent of Aspen's short-term bed base, what officials often refer to as "hot beds." Richman's report, completed in October, suggested that over the years the city itself has erected barriers that have resulted in an outmoded condo inventory.
Zoning and other regulations have encouraged traditional lodge or hotel properties in lieu of condominium developments or improvements, which are considered multifamily residences, a recent memorandum from the city's Community Development Department suggests, citing Richman's study. Condominium units, even if rented on a short-term basis, are prevented from taking advantage of some of the height, floor-area and growth-management benefits available to a traditional lodge.
"There are a number of condominium hotel properties in town that act as lodges, ... (but they) do not 'fit' into any zone district very well, which often means these properties are subject to additional land-use reviews related to any maintenance or upkeep that a traditional lodge is not," states the memo from long-range planner Jessica Garrow and Community Development Director Chris Bendon.
Tuesday's discussion was part of an ongoing attempt by officials to examine ways to improve the city's shrinking hot-bed base. The City Council set a goal this year of completing a study on lodging that looks at the adequacy of accommodations options in Aspen and outlining areas for improvement.
The city was dealt a blow in its quest to build on the room base last month, when a developer decided to withdraw an application for a project that called for 76 hotel rooms in a building near Lift 1A at South Aspen and Juan streets. The developer said hotel operators needed a bigger building than the one being proposed - at least four stories tall, a height that's a tough sell in the community, politically speaking.
Garrow and Bendon suggested a few steps to bolster the local hotel and condo markets. Some of their suggestions were based on input they received from area lodging-community representatives at a meeting Oct. 23 at the Gant.
Their suggestions include:
• Examine and create a greater understanding of basic lodging economics. The lodging stakeholders "consistently expressed concern that community members, decision-makers and city staff don't understand the basics of lodging economics," the memo says.
• Study what lodge products customers want. "An obvious, but key, takeaway from (the Oct. 23 meeting) was that as a community, we don't understand what our visitor wants in terms of a lodging product," the memo adds.
• Create a new program that better addresses hybrid condominiums/hotels. "Three of Aspen's largest hotel properties are actually hybrid models: Aspen Square, Aspen Alps and The Gant. ... They are considered under the land-use code as multifamily residential units, despite the fact that most of the units are in the short-term rental pool on a regular basis. A new program could better address the needs of these properties and enable the creation of similar projects in town," the memo states.
• Explore development assistance for lodging refurbishment, "Development assistance could include providing expert analysis to existing lodge properties so they know what refurbishment options are available, looking at the fees associated with development applications and deciding if waivers for certain fees or mitigation requirements should be implemented," the memo concludes.