Aspen City Council moves to fast track construction during economic crisis
The majority of Aspen City Council on Monday agreed to loosen construction restrictions in an effort to increase economic activity during the COVID-19 crisis, which has shut down nearly every business in town.
Council members during a work session agreed to allow building permits to be expedited and issued, potentially letting developers work on several projects at once.
Elected officials also agreed to extend the right-of-way construction season from its current June 1 closure date to July 1, and then begin it early, prior to Labor Day, for the fall months.
That gives contractors and laborers at least a month to make up for the time they were shut down on their projects in April.
The Pitkin County Public Health order was amended last week to allow construction sites to resume beginning Monday.
Council declined to extend construction hours and is sticking with the current rules of 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We are already under so much stress as a community,” Councilman Skippy Mesirow said.
That was a sigh of relief for resident Valerie McDonald, who told council during public comment that 10 hours a day of construction is plenty.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” she said, adding that she recognizes that construction in Aspen is part of life but it’s nice to have a break.
Expediting construction projects could result in disruption on every block in the downtown core, which is concerning for Mayor Torre.
Also of concern among council members is getting assurance that a developer has a surety that the financing is in place and the projects are going to get finished, and not be an a blighted hole in the ground for years to come as witnessed after the Great Recession.
City staff will work to alleviate those concerns and attempt to hold developers accountable on their ability to assure their projects will in fact get completed, community development director Phillip Supino told council.
In their presentation to council, city staffers pointed out more cons than pros in their construction recovery analysis.
However, in a town where construction, development and growth pit community members against one another, in a survey on Aspencommunityvoice.com about the proposed construction stimulus, it was a nearly 2-to-1 margin of people favoring getting hammers in full swing.
While construction and development increase economic activity by creating jobs and bringing workers to town requiring goods and services, there are negative impact.
According to a staff memo to council, a report from the Economic Policy Institute estimates that for every 100 direct construction industry jobs, 226 indirect jobs — suppliers, goods and services — are created.
“Direct and indirect employment and spending will infuse cash into the regional economy, add value to real property in the city, and contribute to regional recovery,” the memo reads.
Dust, noise, traffic, parking disruptions, reduced air quality, and visual effects are all impacts one might reasonably anticipate from an increase in construction activity, according to the memo from city department heads.
Increased construction and development also may result in the demolition of commercial spaces, displacing local businesses, they added.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins, who is serving as liaison to the construction and professional services sectors, said businesses closing to make way for redevelopment are inevitable and unfortunate.
But recognizing it’s going to be a quiet summer with no special events and tourism down, construction activity is ripe, she added.
Land-use planner and consultant Chris Bendon, representing developer Mark Hunt who controls dozens of properties ready for redevelopment, told council the team is ready to go and would try to have most projects contained to interior work by summer of 2021.
“Start sooner, finish quicker,” he said.
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“There are parts of (Grizzly Creek Fire) that got 8 inches of snow in the recent weeks, but we still have activity on warm days,” a Forest Service spokesman said. “We’ll probably need some kind of season-ending weather event, like a big rain or snow to put it completely out.”