Aspen City Council looks at further mitigation in response to real estate explosion |

Aspen City Council looks at further mitigation in response to real estate explosion

Proposed land use changes would update antiquated affordable housing mitigation system and add hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees when demolition occurs

It’s been nearly a week since Aspen City Council placed a moratorium on all residential development within the city, and elected officials are poised Tuesday to sign off on further regulations that are designed to mitigate community impacts in response to the unprecedented explosion in the local real estate market.

Proposed changes to the city’s land use code affecting single-family homes and duplexes could translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars in new mitigation fees to a property owner.

While council has been discussing these proposed changes since the summer, it’s just been recently that it has gotten on the radar of some longtime local residents who argue that it is too impactful to them if they want to demolish their aging property and rebuild.

“It’s real money,” Aspen homeowner Mike Maple said. “(The city) thinks if you own a house you are rich.”

Maple and other homeowners who have lived in their homes for decades, as well as professionals in the development community, have been sharing their opinions on the proposed changes with city officials.

Ben Anderson, the city’s principal long range planner in the community development department, said the comments he’s received have been mostly fair and there have been suggestions on changes to the proposal that council could consider.

There are two main changes proposed in the land use code for the purposes of affordable housing mitigation.

The first is eliminating credit given to existing floor area, so for example if a 2,000-square-foot home is demolished and replaced with a 3,000-square-foot one, the owner would have to mitigate for all of it and not get a credit for the existing floor area.

Under that scenario, mitigation fees would jump from $60,236 to $180,708.

The second change is eliminating exemptions for basements and other square footage areas, like garages and stairways.

So if a home was 3,000 square feet above grade and 3,000 square feet subgrade, the mitigation rate for demolition under current rules would be $108,708 and under the proposal, it would be $474,358.

Anderson said the idea is that many of the old properties that are being rebuilt were never mitigated for and the new calculations address the city’s antiquated affordable housing mitigation system.

“The current system is woefully underrepresenting the employee generation impacts of this kind of development,” he said, adding that some people argue that houses being replaced does not change the population and doesn’t add new units to the residential sector, and therefore it isn’t growth.

“But as we drive around town and see these construction projects and see the traffic and the stuff that goes along with that, I think it requires a different definition of growth,” Anderson continued. “That’s a point to be fairly debated and there’s honest disagreement on that topic but I think most in the community look at what’s going on in this sector and say it’s growth and it’s not mitigating in the way the community would expect.”

City officials have considered the impact to longtime homeowners and have built into the proposed ordinance a deferral of the increased costs.

For property owners qualified as a full-time local working resident, they could defer the mitigation requirement until the property is no longer owned by a full-time local working resident.

Maple said that just cuts into the sales price of the property when it’s eventually sold.

He also said the city plans on doing an employee generation study to analyze what the impact is of today’s growth and building activity is, and he would prefer that to be done before these proposed changes are adopted into law.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing that they have so much control and so little perspective,” Maple said.

Anderson pointed out that there is no mitigation required if someone is remodeling their home; it’s only at demolition that the fees are triggered.

“They are frustrated because we are not recognizing the past and their role in the community and their role in providing housing for their family and I see the fees as distinct things,” he said. “They’ve got a home and there’s no consequence to them if they want to live and stay there, but if there is a major redevelopment on their property whether it’s a resident working local or an out-of-state owner, the impacts of that construction are the same.”

With the ban on residential development for up to six months while council and city officials align the land use code, the affordable housing program and the Aspen Area Community Plan, the proposed changes in Ordinance 24 being considered Tuesday could be tabled.

“I think that this would stand on its own but it might be that we connect it with some of the things that council has an interest in looking at,” Anderson said.

He added that the proposed land use code changes are conservative and are a good attempt at applying them across the board in the residential sector.

“When we establish impact fees, it’s a combination of art and science,” Anderson said. “There’s science in getting to a really precise number but then how you understand that and apply it across all properties and try to create fairness, that’s what the art becomes.”

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