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No more growth for Aspen?

John Colson

A group of citizen planners believes Aspen has reached its maximumreasonable population level and should not be allowed to growany more.But, these citizen advisers say, there still is a need for localgovernment to get busy and build some 1,000 new affordable housingunits over the course of the next five to 20 years.These and other recommendations are among the concepts that willbe on display tonight, when the Aspen Area Community Plan revisionsare unveiled at an open house at City Hall.A veritable army of local volunteers has been working since early1998 on revisions to the five-year-old AACP, which acts as a roadmap for local governments in land-use considerations.Working with local planning staffers and consultants, a numberof “focus committees” have developed a series of vision statements,descriptive analyses of Aspen’s present and prescription for thefuture, and other material that will all be combined into thefinal revised AACP document.The underpinning of this work consists of the original AACP adoptedin 1993; shelves full of studies containing socioeconomic dataabout the region and the town; and the collective memories andexperiences of dozens of volunteers who have been here anywherefrom a couple of years to nearly half a century.Behind on housingThe data behind the plan includes some revelations, such as thecontention that only 35 percent of Aspen’s work force currentlylives upvalley. One of the basic tenets of the 1993 AACP was thatthe upvalley governments should work toward building or otherwiseobtaining enough affordable housing in Pitkin County to house60 percent of the work force.Part of the reason such a small percentage of the work force livesupvalley, said senior long-range planner Stephanie Millar, isthat the work force has been growing more quickly than new affordablehousing has been built. The result, she said, has been an ever-growingarmy of commuting workers who live downvalley but work in theAspen area.So the growth committee has decided there is a “need to find away to limit the job growth in the community,” she said. She saidstudies have shown that much of the new job growth has been inthe service sector, such as workers to maintain Aspen’s growinginventory of vacation homes, and expanded staffs in restaurantsand retail shops to handle demands for a higher level of servicein those businesses.The growth committee, reacting to a sewer department study thatshowed Aspen had more than 32,000 people living, working and playingin town on July 25, 1998, has concluded that the town has reachedits maximum capacity and should not grow any more.The committee actually has identified 27,000 as Aspen’s maximumpopulation, and believes that the city has either reached thatnumber or is perilously close to it.”It’s the committee’s impression that, after we do the 1,000 unitsin 20 years or so, we’re full,” said Millar.Four essential goalsGenerally, Millar said, the plan’s revisions have boiled downto four essential goals:To contain growth within an “urban growth boundary” that includesall existing residential development along the Roaring Fork Valleyfloor, and stretches north of Aspen to a spot just beyond theAspen Airport Business Center.To “capture” growth impacts, meaning create regulations that callfor certain kinds of growth to “pay their way” that have not doneso in the past, such as the growth in luxury home maintenanceworkers.Build sufficient affordable housing to establish a self-sustaininglocal working population, which some have pegged at around 5,000to 7,000 people.Do a better job of preserving Aspen’s “character,” which is erodingin social as well as architectural and economic terms.The open house tonight, which is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. inthe City Council chambers at City Hall, is an opportunity forcitizens to familiarize themselves with the details of the planand make comments.Following the open house and the final meeting of the “oversightcommittee” that is hammering out any conflicts between the recommendationsof the various focus committees, city staffers will begin thework of putting the plan together for its final presentation tothe Aspen and Pitkin County planning commissions for adoption.Millar said she is hoping for adoption of the revised plan byearly June.


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