Old law passes as new
ASPEN ” A small but vocal group of government critics were outed Monday night by public officials after they attempted to portray a 20-year-old law aimed at protecting the demolition of multi-family housing as a new ordinance.
The alarm bell was sounded to dozens of property owners last week, who were confused on what the law was, when it was passed and who it’s aimed at. They came out in force at the Aspen City Council’s Monday meeting, thinking the supposedly new law would negatively affect their property values and violate their ownership rights. The council also received between 50 and 60 e-mails from concerned citizens, arguing why the law is unfair and urging elected officials to not adopt it.
The law, which has had varying reiterations since its original adoption in 1988, requires that the owner of an existing multi-family dwelling who seeks to combine, demolish or convert units must replace them with 100 percent affordable housing on site.
The law was designed to ensure continued vitality of the community and a critical mass of local working residents, as well as create no net loss of the total number of units between the existing development and proposed development.
The adoption of Ordinance 22, which the Aspen City Council approved 4-0, created exemptions for owners if the demolition occurred from an act of God, like a natural disaster or a fire. It also exempts owners from replacing the units with affordable housing if the demolition was ordered by a public agency. Owners who covert, demolish or combine units that never housed a local worker and were used for tourist accommodations also are exempt. And any unit that was created illegally also is exempt.
Monday night’s vote was a housekeeping measure ” those exemptions were put back into the ordinance after it was discovered that they were omitted in 2007 when the law was changed by the direction of a previous city council.
“This is not a secret law and this is not a secret organization,” said Mayor Mick Ireland in response to claims that there is a lack of transparency by the government because property owners were unaware of the law.
The take by some individuals, including Marilyn Marks, who writes a blog called the “Red Ant” that is distributed weekly via e-mail, suggested that Ordinance 22 hasn’t been enforced over the years and effectively is a new policy.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon took issue with that position, and said he and his staff attempt to apply the land use code evenly. Several projects that include the conversion, demolition or combination of multi-family buildings have been subject to the law, he added.
Bendon realized the exemptions had been inadvertently dropped after owners of a unit at the Aspen Alps wanted to remodel their property as a result of fire damage. The ordinance didn’t allow a way for them to remodel without providing 100 percent affordable housing as a replacement.
Known as the “Multi-family Replacement Program,” the law was passed by the City Council in the late 1980s after officials became concerned that the demolition of existing free-market residential units was resulting in the exclusion of working residents from the city’s neighborhoods.
The program is one of the main reasons older multi-family buildings remain in Aspen’s housing stock. Without the program, thousands of units would have been lost and replaced with free-market housing, city officials maintain.
“We cannot afford to lose long-time affordable housing simply for speculation,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson.
The council recognizes there are issues in Ordinance 22 that need to be addressed for long-time residents who seek to live in bigger units and other limitations that affect them financially. The council voted unanimously to consider further amendment to the law, which will be discussed at a future work session.
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