Aspen takes a step backward on housing front |

Aspen takes a step backward on housing front

The Aspen Times Editorial

The Aspen City Council this week took a major step backward, or at least sideways, in the endless campaign to find ways to house the city’s working class in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

During a review of a proposed amendment to the land-use code, the council decided against putting language in the code that called for mandatory occupancy of “accessory dwelling units” attached to large new homes built in town.

The laws governing these ADUs, as they are known, were originally written as a way for developers and property owners to contribute to a solution to Aspen’s worsening housing crunch. Significant development incentives are offered to go along with construction of the ADUs, in the hopes that the homeowners will do the right thing and rent the units to qualified local workers.

Instead, of the 85 or so ADUs that reportedly have been built, only about one-fifth are actually housing workers. The rest are vacant or being used as spare rooms, robbing the community of housing for dozens of employees.

Last year, the City Council decided something needed to be done to correct this situation, leading to the proposed code amendment that was basically rejected Monday night. Led by Tony Hershey, the council backed away from the “mandatory occupancy” idea, and called upon the city’s staff to come up with something that would be more acceptable to the real estate and development crowd.

This is a travesty. It is not only a repudiation of the work of earlier councils and housing advocates, it is a capitulation to a pro-development philosophy that seems to be on the ascendancy in City Hall.

Hershey, who along with the rest of those on the council has claimed to be a champion of affordable housing for the working class, in this case led the charge to abandon a vital potential source of housing without so much as giving it a chance. He maintained that to even attempt to incorporate the “mandatory occupancy” concept would bring ruination on the whole housing program. Resorting to dramatic invective, as is often his style, he set the tone for the rest of the council to follow his line of thinking without question or objection.

Hershey made no effort to hide his affiliation with the one realtor sitting in the council room – Lori Winnerman – speaking up only after she inveighed against the proposed code amendment, glancing often in her direction and signaling to her with facial expressions.

Such an affiliation is certainly his right, as a politician and a citizen. The real estate and development community’s views should be considered in the making of city policies, and the point here is not to negate that fact in any way.

The point here is that the mandatory occupancy proposal has been a long time in the formulation, and should not be meekly tossed aside based on the acknowledged bias of one council member, or even two or three. It deserves greater discussion, including the opinion of the city attorney and any citizens who feel the need to comment on it.

The housing program we have here in Aspen is the envy of resorts and cities throughout the United States. We have taken bold steps before, regardless of the feelings of some that they were risky, and they have paid off to the benefit of our whole community. Let’s not throw this idea out now without giving it a full airing in a formal public hearing.

We owe it to ourselves and to the future of Aspen to take a long, close look at this issue and let everybody have a say. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the hard work we have done so far, and a bad precedent to set in light of the hard work we still face.

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