Opposition to Aspen’s residential development moratorium mounting, petitioners say
Signature collecting for citizen-initiated ordinance, special election challenging moratorium on issuance of short-term rental permits and new development at half-way mark
A group of around 50 people are more than half way to collecting enough signatures to put a citizen-initiated ordinance to a vote in a special election that seeks to repeal legislation passed by Aspen City Council that put a six-month moratorium on new residential development and the issuance of short-term rental permits.
That’s according to Bill Guth and Bob Bowden, who are organizers of the signature petition drive and local real estate agents.
Guth said the signature collectors represent all facets of the community who agree that the city’s characterization there is an emergency in order to pass the moratorium in a just over 24-hour period was a misuse of power.
“We’ve been very strategic getting these signatures, and it’s a representation from all economic strata and professions,” Guth said, adding bartenders, restaurant workers and painters, some of whom live in deed-restricted affordable housing, are behind the effort. “It’s not just real estate brokers running around.”
Each of the 50 or so people are being asked to get between 20 and 30 signatures from Aspen registered voters and are armed with packets containing a full list of who qualifies to sign the petition.
There also are six locations where people can go to sign a petition, including local businesses including Campo de Fiori, Big Wrap and ANB Bank.
The group needs 993 signatures of registered Aspen voters, which is 15% of the electorate, to move the initiative forward.
If they collect the required amount of signatures and submit them to City Clerk’s office, and they are certified in the affirmative, the citizen-initiated ordinance must be reviewed by council within 20 days.
If council rejects the initiative, it will go to a special election not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days from elected officials’ decision, according to City Attorney Jim True, citing state statute.
Those in the real estate and vacation rental industries also are challenging the moratorium through a pending civil court action seeking a temporary restraining order.
The moratorium, passed in December by council, is in response to the real estate market explosion in Aspen over the past two years and the proliferation of short-term rentals in single-family homes and condos.
The residential moratorium is in place until June 8, with the short-term rental pause scheduled to be lifted after Sept. 30.
During that time, city staff, hired consultants and council members will be working on updating the municipal government’s land use code, affordable housing mitigation policies, growth management quota allotments on development, as well as conducting numerous studies and analyses as they relate to the real estate and short-term rental industries.
The ordinance is designed to link the issues of community, environmental and economic health to specific development activities, according to Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director.
When deliberating in December, council members said the impacts of speculative real estate activity are putting negative pressures on the local workforce, available housing, traffic, the environment and the quality of life that is emulated in the Aspen Area Community Plan, which is a guiding document used to make policy decisions.
Guth and Bowden said less than six months is not enough time to do a full-length assessment or study on any of the complex issues the city is attempting to do or make policy based on that information.
“They totally put the cart in front of the horse in this situation,” Guth said, adding he’s concerned that the ban on new residential development permits will be longer than six months.
He and Bowden have roughly 150 days to collect the signatures and submit them to the clerk’s office, per state statute.
“We believe this should be a decision made by community,” Guth said. “These are long-term problems that need to be solved with community collaboration and thought-out studies.”
Supino said he and his colleagues in the city are currently devising a work plan that is scheduled to be presented to council next month.
The city is budgeting between $350,000 and $450,000 in outside consultants to assist community development and the communications department on the moratorium work, according to Supino.
“We want to get it right as this is a large segment of our economy,” he said. “We hope to have clarity and as baked of a project as we can by Feb. 1.”
As identified in Ordinance 27, these specific issues have created an emergency in the minds of Aspen City Council members:
• The current residential development pattern is contrary to strongly stated community values and goals within the Aspen Area Community Plan (AACP).
• The current residential development pattern undermines and will prevent Aspen from meeting our local climate action and environmental protection goals and responsibly participating in global climate agreements and initiatives.
• The long-standing Growth Management Quota System no longer manages growth as it was intended to, nor is it able to respond to the nature of the impacts to the community of the current residential development pattern or trends in the use of many of our residences as short-term/vacation rentals.
• Aspen’s land use code does not provide adequate regulations related to short-term/vacation rentals in managing the impacts to neighbors, ensuring a balance of land use types within the community, ensuring the use covers its costs to the community, and ensuring that rentals are safe and provide a quality product to our visitors.
• The current residential development pattern does not produce sufficient opportunities for the development of affordable housing to support an adequate labor market, in meeting the needs of employees, employers, and the maintenance of lived-in, vibrant, sustainable community.
• The development procedures in Aspen’s land use code often have the effect of encouraging residential development that may be contrary to our community goals and discouraging residential development that supports our goals.
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