Aspen City Council directs staff to focus on commercial vacancy and housing credits |

Aspen City Council directs staff to focus on commercial vacancy and housing credits

The historic building at 201 E. Main St., known to most as the former Main Street Bakery, sold Wednesday to Aspen developer Mark Hunt for $5.5 million.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Expressing frustration with all the incomplete construction downtown, Aspen’s city council members emphasized the need to re-evaluate construction management policies, as well as the Affordable Housing Credit Program, to the city Community Development Department at a work session Monday.

ComDev laid out their agenda items for 2023 and sought input on prioritization and direction from council members.

Under the “commercial vitality” topic, the bullet point “construction management policies” garnered a lot of discussion from the council.

“I think we need to make sure we have the right set of incentives and disincentives to finish your project in a timely fashion,” council member Rachael Richards. “Maybe some disincentives from for change orders that are significant, which we’ve seen be a big part of the delay of some of these projects, where they get approvals for one thing and come back in and want to change it to something entirely different.”

Other council members largely agreed with Richards that they and the community are frustrated with the extended construction periods on commercial property in the core, and that ComDev staff should prioritize how to limit the time a property can remain under construction in the core.

In the past few years, downtown Aspen has experienced an exodus of businesses, some beloved local institutions, leaving behind empty commercial spaces for — in some cases — years. 

“The goal, obviously, is to avoid what our downtown is going through currently with boarded-up buildings at either end and a big hole in the middle,” said council member John Doyle.

At the work session on Dec. 12, ComDev discussed improvements to the Affordable Housing Credits Program for 2023. Following up on that conversation, council members expressed a need for transparency in the credits program and how the program, created in 2010, has evolved to benefit large employers over smaller employers. 

“(At first) it was a lot of people buying their units and getting keys and creating permanent community members. And now it’s turning more into a leasing program,” said Richards.

“It seems to me that we should have a wider policy discussion. So we don’t box ourselves in when we’ve created some smaller policies or codes or that to fit an individual’s situation,” said council member Ward Hauenstein. 

ComDev will also tackle demolition allotments, outdoor lighting, a community demographics analysis, miscellaneous code clean-up, recruitment and retention on city boards and commissions, and commercial vitality in 2023. Some projects will extend into 2024, ComDev staff said.