Aspen City Council seeks to temporarily ban residential redevelopment
Citing impacts to the community and on the environment, elected officials declare an emergency through ordinance
Aspen City Council on Tuesday initially passed a moratorium that would ban new residential development for up to six months, declaring an emergency in the community.
The temporary moratorium is on new land use applications affecting residential uses in all zone districts within the city that meet the definition of demolition, or would have the effect of increasing the height, gross square footage, net leasable area or net livable area of any building.
The council voted 5-0 on first reading at its Tuesday meeting. Because it is an emergency ordinance, it goes to a final reading in a special meeting on Wednesday starting at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers, located in the basement of the armory on Galena Street.
Approval of the ordinance would make it effectively immediately.
Council wants to hit the pause button on new residential development to assess the effects that the explosion of the free-market real estate market has had on the community and on the environment.
“The residential sector in general, per council input and community input, appears to be driving significant impacts to community health, peace and safety and the emergency declaration in this ordinance is designed to create a pause whereby council and the community can consider the relationship between those emergency conditions and the regulations and policies in place specific to the residential development sector, which may require consideration or modification,” said Community Development Director Phillip Supino.
The ordinance cites that with unprecedented increases in home prices and lack of supply over time, the residential real estate market in Aspen no longer delivers meaningful, or affordable, housing for local residents.
The city depends on a lived-in community of year-round locals to support community culture, provide labor and capital to support the local economy and ensure the long-term viability of Aspen and tourist economy, according to the ordinance.
Supino said there’s currently $750 million in current valuation either approved for redevelopment or in the permitting queue system.
“That is a large number for a community our size and may be reflective of conditions which are not delivering on community policy,” he said. “Currently 68% of the single-family residential units in the city of Aspen are listed as being vacant by the U.S. Census Bureau. The relationship between the inadequacy of our residential real estate market to housing our local population when we see it in the context of a number like that raises some questions and requires some analysis.”
City officials also see negative effects on the environment as a result of the fast pace of redevelopment of free-market residences as they necessitate construction vehicles, consume energy, require sourced materials from elsewhere and produce solid waste, among other impacts.
“Specific to the residential sector, cars and trucks on the road contribute to 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Aspen,” Supino said. “Light and heavy trucks like the ones required for construction activities represent 50% of vehicles on the road in the city of Aspen in a year.”
Supino also cited statistics that show in 2019 residential properties accounted for 29% of Aspen’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and 75% of the landfill is currently being filled with construction and demolition waste.
“Because of this there’s a two-year life left on the landfill and six years once the expansion on the landfill occurs,” he said. “So once again, a correlation which requires exploration between residential development dynamics, the pace and scale of residential development and the city’s adopted climate and solid waste policies and goals, and staff’s belief and is embedded in this ordinance that a pause in residential construction will allow staff, council and the community time to assess that relationship.”
Council members did not comment on the emergency ordinance, leaving room for that during Wednesday’s meeting.
The pause is designed to assess the current state of the affordable housing program, assess gaps and opportunities in regulations and line them up with the city’s land use code and the Aspen Area Community Plan.
Exemptions to the moratorium include land use applications already submitted prior to Wednesday night’s presumed passage, as well as submissions for projects that are 100% affordable housing or are part of the city’s historic preservation program.
Land use applications that do not seek to increase square footage, or the height of a building or building permits for commercial and lodge development as stand-alone uses on a parcel are exempt from the moratorium.
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