Aspen elected officials interested in fees on short-term rental permits, limiting number

Citing environmental, affordable housing and general community impacts, mitigation is necessary, Aspen City Council says

Aspen City Council gave a thumbs up on Tuesday for community development staff to pursue concepts around establishing fees and taxes on short-term rental permits to mitigate impacts to the town and its people, as well as controlling the number of vacation rentals through zoning and other measures.

The work being contemplated during council’s work session is in response to an emergency ordinance it passed on Dec. 8 with very little discussion prior to the vote that put a six-month moratorium on new residential development and nine months on the issuance of short-term rental permits.

During that time, city officials will work to amend the land use code, including affordable housing mitigation and other community-minded regulations to offset the impacts that speculative real estate and vacation rentals have created in recent years.

“These types of conversations we are having here tonight … are absolutely essential to ensuring that when ordinances are ultimately delivered to council for your consideration, they are commensurate with your expectations,” said Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director. “They are aligned with the feedback we’ve received from the community and from the work that we’ve received from our consultants to date.”

Council members generally agreed that in order to mitigate impacts from short-term rentals on employee generation and other infrastructure and service demands, that permit and impact fees, or a dedicated tax, may be needed.

Those options would likely require a public vote, officials acknowledged.

Council members said they would like a more detailed report on tax and fee options.

“The public needs to, in my mind, understand what our options are as much as we do,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said.

She also pointed out that her colleagues and city officials ought to be thinking about employee generation as a result of short-term rentals more broadly.

She used an example of a property advertised just east of town.

“The Dunbar ranch residence, 12 bedrooms, 13 baths, sleeps 34, available weekly, monthly and for private events right up Independence Pass,” Richards said. “How many housing units do you think that they ever mitigated for under the county codes when it was approved? And if it sleeps 35, I imagine it’s going to take a goodly number of employees to keep it in shape. That’s what I am worried about.”

Council members also said they want more information about zoning changes to limit the number of short-term rental permits issued in certain areas.

Supino pointed out that several sister communities have zoning limitations for short-term rental properties and passing them in Aspen or capping the number of how long they can operate in a year will be no less controversial.

“That has financial implications for people, which makes the contentiousness of the conversation greater,” he said, later agreeing with Councilman John Doyle that there will be unhappy people who hold short-term rental permits that probably shouldn’t given their inappropriate locations. “We anticipate pushback.”

Councilmember Skippy Mesirow said so be it.

“It’s super exciting to see this alignment at this table and on staff and as John said we expect pushback and we’re ready for that in the best interest of the community,” he said.

Council also lent support for regulations around life safety, neighborhood impacts and enforcement.

The moratorium is in response to the real estate market explosion in Aspen over the past two years, and the proliferation of short-term rentals in single-family homes and condos.

City officials have argued the impacts of speculative real estate activity is putting negative pressures on the local workforce, available housing, traffic, the environment and the quality of life that is emulated in the Aspen Area Community Plan, which is a guiding document used to make policy decisions.

The pause on residential development and the issuance of permits on short-term rentals is to allow city officials to assess how current land use code regulations, the AACP and the affordable housing program matches with the unprecedented growth and the changing use in the local real estate market.

City officials are working with those in the real estate and vacation rental industries as they make amendments to the land use code and create new affordable housing mitigation measures.

Council also in a special meeting prior to Tuesday’s work session voted unanimously to approve a $288,775 contract with Design Workshop to be the lead consultant in supporting the city’s work during the moratorium.

The city already has paid Design Workshop $69,900 for work in recent weeks, bringing the total value of the firm’s contract to $358,675.

Focused on the residential development issues identified in Ordinance 27, Design Workshop will provide development analysis, case studies, code review, project management support, and importantly, with sub-contractor City-Explained, Inc., leadership of public outreach efforts, according to Ben Anderson, the city’s principal long-range planner.

“It’s important to our continuing to be able to work in meeting the expectations of the timeline for the moratorium,” Anderson said. “After some significant work to land on this scope we think it will bring success to our larger process.”

Mesirow said every penny is worth it.

“I have been one to sort of roll my eyes at big consultant contracts and I’m very supportive of this one as I see a clear indication to the community that we are dead serious about the speed we want this work to be done in and the way we want our community involved,” he said. “So, whether you are somebody who has been at our throats thinking this was the worst idea or cheering us on, we want you in this process for putting our money where our mouth is and the timeline is short and this is when we are co-creating the rules that will make it possible for us to have the community that we all want and not sit back and accept the community that we all feel we’re losing.”

Moratorium public outreach next week

The city of Aspen is hosting focus group sessions and pop-up meetings next week regarding residential development and the related moratorium on the issuance of building permits for new development and permits for short-term rentals.

March 5: 1-3 p.m. at Aspen pedestrian mall across from Wheeler Opera House.

March 7: 3-5:30 p.m. at Wheeler Opera House.

March 9: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Red Brick Center for the Arts.

March 9: Focus group at City Hall from 5-6:30 p.m. that will allow people to share their thoughts about existing conditions related to the pace and scale of free-market development, promotion of affordable housing options through review of existing programs, and overarching development procedures including demolition and zoning.

You can participate either in person at City Hall (427 Rio Grande Place in the Pearl Pass Room), or virtually.

RSVP is required.

To register for the in-person event, contact

To register to attend virtually, go to:

For more details, go to: