Construction activity in Aspen moving at unprecedented rate

Valuation of active permits amounts to $750 million this year

The amount and complexity of construction activity in the city of Aspen has grown so significantly in recent years that it is almost too difficult to process for building officials in the municipal government.

That was a point made by Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director, when he presented his department’s 2022 budget to Aspen City Council on Tuesday.

He showed three years’ worth of a data over an 11-year period in which the average building permit valuation went from $131,617 in 2010 to just over $1 million this year.

“This really demonstrates the complexity of the development environment in our community,” he said.

Two factors are driving those figures, which are the tastes and desires of property owners and the development community for complex and world-class residential and commercial buildings, as well as the complexity of the city’s regulations.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said that’s more than a seven times increase in 11 years.

“That’s like if I started eating a little bit more now and by my 45th birthday I weighed 1,090 pounds,” he said. “That’s the scale of we’ve seen just in the last few years, and it’s sort of mind boggling to think about what changes has that left us and how do we respond to that because whatever we were doing before is certainly not keeping up with that level of change.”

Supino also pointed to some other unprecedented numbers that show how robust construction activity is and that the average project is larger and more complex than in the past.

The community development department uses project valuation, as opposed to the number of permits issued, for assessing how complex the work staff does and the demand for services.

This year, there have been 147 permits issued for major projects totaling $470.5 million in valuation and 94 permits under review with $278 million in valuation.

When added up, “$750 million in total project valuation for active permits, that number is bonkers for 7,500 … people,” Supino said.

Comparing that to Colorado Springs in 2020 with a population of 478,000 people, that community had permits totaling $2.83 billion in valuation.

“Their population is thousands of times more than us,” Supino said.

The community development department, which offers planning and building services while guiding land use and development, focuses on ensuring the staff is right-sized to deliver core services.

That means adding resources as needed to meet short-term needs and community expectations, Supino said.

“What slows down our delivery of services more often than not is the complexity of our regulations and the complexity of our processes,” he said.

His department has 29 full-time employees doing everything from land use planning and regulating development, to building inspections and issuing certificates of occupancy to ensure life safety and making sure people are complying with the code.

Council members said they support funding additional staff in community development as they make policy that creates more work, such as potential new regulations on short-term rentals, which will be discussed in more detail next month.

“I for one would consider more staff for the magnitude of the work we’ve been asking,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards during Monday’s work session on next year’s budget for the engineering department, which works in tandem with community development.

Mayor Torre said he’s open to the conversation about using contract labor in community development, which has been occurring for the past two years.

“These two departments work so hard, and they get so stressed,” he said, “and the complexity of what they’re dealing with is intense.”