When the city of Aspen studies mitigation fees for residential projects, a key detail will be how primary households are viewed versus second homes.
As Mayor Steve Skadron said during Monday’s regular meeting, all single-family homes are not necessarily equal. During the consent calendar portion of the meeting, the council signed off on a $33,000 contract with Boulder’s RRC Associates, which will study employee generation from residential homes in Aspen. Using the data, which is expected Aug. 1, the council will decide whether to raise or lower mitigation fees for Aspen’s homeowners.
During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, prior to approval of the contract, four homeowners expressed concern that the study will not be comprehensive enough. Mike Maple said the study will not take into account the occupants of households. As an example, he said that if he builds a house for his children, who want to continue to live and work in Aspen, they will not be counted as employees generated. He also added that at the Maple household he is the gardener, which should be taken into account when analyzing fees and taxes that pay for ongoing residential services.
“I take out my own trash. I don’t have a maid service,” Maple said. “The resident of that house may not be generating the same operational maintenance. The second part of it is there are mitigation fees.”
With homeowners already paying a real estate transfer tax, he said the fees mean double taxation. He said his parents pay $6,000 a year in property taxes but don’t benefit from the same amount in services. He said from the city’s point of view, the purpose of the fees is to better serve people who live and work here, but in reality, it’s doing the exact opposite.
Rob Guile, who has lived here since 1971, said he is proud that he and his family have never lived in employee housing. With the fees, he said it seems like the city is trying to force people in that direction. He had planned to build a carriage house for his son, but it would’ve cost $100,000 before even breaking ground.
“I thought they were kidding,” Guile said.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon said he has been approached by one developer who “is willing to pay his fair share, but he needs to know accurately what that is.” Bendon said the study will provide the statistics the city needs, so that council can take the proper steps in determining policy. Prompted by a question from councilwoman Ann Mullins, he said the numbers will need to be updated every five to 10 years.
RRC will be pulling data from various mountain-town communities as a reference point for Aspen. Councilman Dwayne Romero advised against allowing numbers from say, Park City or Teton, to dilute analysis for Aspen.
“I agree,” Bendon said, adding that in previous studies for commercial-mitigation fees, Aspen has compared data to other towns. “I think it’s useful to know where other people are but only as a reference point and to maybe have some confidence about where our numbers are.”
During the citizens comment portion, it also was suggested that there be community input for the study. Bendon said the public will have input, but it won’t be in an open house setting.
Skadron asked if trying to define occupants in primary and second homes could cause legal or community issues, while council member Adam Frisch questioned the city’s ability to charge different fees based on voting records and length of yearly residency.
“We could probably go down that path,” Bendon said. “I don’t think we want to be in the position where we’re trying to ask at the building-permit-submission table, ‘What do you do here in town? And do you take out your own trash?’ We don’t want to get to that point, but I think there are some valid points that have been brought up that we can ask RRC to help us with.”
Romero said the council needs to have a check-in session with RRC so that the 10 “guiding assumptions,” which will drive the study, can be looked at, so that the end analysis can inform policy discussion in a quality way. The $33,000 includes two site visits.
Frisch said that on the residential end, mitigation fees are at about $78 per square foot. What the city does not know, he said, is how much employee generation there is for each square foot.
“I’m looking forward to having the study done,” Frisch said, adding that the question of double taxation with the real-estate transfer tax is valid and needs to be answered. “I appreciate that there are some people out there who think we are trying to run the number up and try to skew it that way. We are trying to collect money to offset the true cost of development, which is what we don’t know at the moment, to make sure we have a healthy community.”