Looking at the ‘State of the Aspen Area’ | AspenTimes.com

Looking at the ‘State of the Aspen Area’

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” There were 10,000 building permits issued by the city of Aspen over the past eight years, valued at a total of more than $2.4 billion, and more than one-fifth of those permits were for what are known as “scrape and replace” projects in residential neighborhoods, a new study reported this week.

And of those development projects, said the “State of the Aspen Area: 2000 to 2008” report, nearly a third were located in the Midland and Park avenues area on the east side of town. Only about one-fifth of the permits were for houses in the West End or Cemetery Lane neighborhoods, which once were considered the hot spots in town for builders and developers.

The report, which was unveiled this week, is a prelude to a series of community meetings and other planning efforts aimed at updating the 2004 Aspen Area Community Plan. Public input meetings and a survey of area citizens will take place in the coming months, with the expectation that the updated AACP will be ready for adoption around April.

The report contains a wealth of information that, taken all together, indicates that Aspen seems to have lost ground in terms of meeting the housing, child care, shopping and other needs of its middle-class workforce.

For example, citing statistics that have been in the public domain for some time, the report noted that Aspen is housing only a quarter of its workforce, instead of the 60 percent level it once hoped to attain. The rest live in downvalley communities from Carbondale to Parachute.

Then there is the one-two punch that involves the conversion of free-market rentals from employee housing to luxury second homes, and the phenomenon of retiring workers staying on in their affordable housing units. As a result, although the city and county have built or approved between 850 and 1,170 new affordable housing units in the past seven or eight years, the net gain in new employee housing has been held to about 200 units, according to the report.

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At 253 pages, the “State of the Aspen Area” report contains information on a dozen different approaches to understanding where Aspen is today, ranging from the overall economy to how local governments have done at the task of managing growth, from how we stand on preservation and fulfillment of “The Aspen Idea” to where we stand on environmental quality, and much more.

According to the executive summary of the document, for instance, it appears that the city issued more than twice as many building permits in 2007 (863, valued at a total of $225 million) than in 2001 (379, valued at $108 million).

In addition, the study declares that approximately 150,000 square feet of commercial space could still be built in either the city or Pitkin County, but still within the Urban Growth Boundary that stretches past the Pitkin County Airport.

And of the residential component of all that unbuilt commercial space, 1.2 million square feet is potential free-market homes, while a mere 84,651 square feet, of .06 percent, is set aside for affordable housing.

Since 1994, the “pillow count” of local lodges has dropped by 27 percent, the vast majority of the loss coming in “economy” and “moderate” lodges and condominiums.

And the restaurant community, while showing a rise in total sales according to city sales tax figures (up five percent from 2000 to 2007), the overall number of jobs has dropped by five percent for restaurants and bars and the total number of

restaurants/bars and coffee houses has also slipped, from 90 in 2000 to 76 in 2008.

Concerning child care, local pre-schools and other providers are 94.5 percent full today, and will be completely full by 2012 if things continue as they are going. According to the study, more than a third of the kids in those centers come upvalley with their parents every working day, a trend that is not likely to diminish over the near term.

On the good-news front, Aspen’s four ski mountains have held their share of annual Colorado skier visits, at around 11 or 12 percent, from 2000 to 2006-2007.

As for sustaining the Aspen Idea ” a concept that sprang from Aspen’s early days as a ski resort with an artistic soul, and envisioned creation of a town that nurtures body, mind and spirit equally ” the report states that the arts continue to play a major economic role. In 2004, according to the report, arts and cultural events brought in $31.3 million in revenues to local businesses in the summer months and $4.8 million in the winter.

The entire study will be available on a newly created website, http://www.aspencommunityvision.com, as of today, according to Ben Gagnon, the city’s special projects planner.

Gagnon introduced the report at a joint city/county meeting on Tuesday, along several others from the city and county, including planners Jessica Garrow for the city and Ellen Sassano for the county, and their bosses, community development directors Chris Bendon for the city and Cindy Houben for the county.

In a two-hour presentation, the team hit at a number of highlights peppered through the document and took questions from members of the city council, the BOCC and the county planning and zoning commission.

jcolson@aspentimes.com

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