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Empty units troubling city

John Colson

The Aspen City Council will tonight address a loophole in its affordable housing regulations that has been troubling city officials for some time – the occupancy levels of “accessory dwelling units” attached to large homes within the city limits.

A code amendment recommended for approval by the city planning staff would require that ADUs be occupied by qualified local workers, instead of sitting empty or being used as spare bedrooms by the homeowner.

City officials expect that local property owners, realtors and developers will oppose the change in rules.

The ADUs, as they are known in bureaucratic parlance, have for several years been offered to developers and homeowners as a method for skirting some of the city’s more restrictive development rules within its Growth Management Quota System.

Under the GMQS rules, a property owner who agrees to build an ADU (essentially an apartment located on the property) is exempted from having to compete for a limited number of residential development rights available every year. The idea was that they would be rented to qualified local employees, alleviating some of the pressure for housing that has plagued Aspen for nearly two decades.

Other methods of exemption from GMQS competition include payment of a housing impact fee of $42 per square foot of living space in the main house; or an agreement to place a deed restriction on the main house, restricting it to “resident occupied” status under the city’s housing guidelines. But the ADU has been a popular exemption method for property owners eager to avoid the GMQS restrictions.

Recently, officials have learned that many of the ADUs have never been rented out, because there were no occupancy requirements built into the regulations. Instead, the apartments have stood empty or been used as extra rooms by many homeowners.

Earlier this year, local elected and appointed officials instructed city staffers to come up with a way to require that the units be occupied. Tonight, the City Council will get its first formal look at an amendment to the land-use code that would establish “mandatory occupancy” requirements for the ADUs.

“It should be noted that this new mandatory occupancy requirement will be met with some resistance,” warns a memo from the planning staff to the council.

The council will consider the proposed code change with a “first reading” and, if it is preliminarily adopted, set a date for a public hearing on the matter at a future council meeting.

Tonight’s City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the council chambers in the basement of City Hall, and is open to the public.


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