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Out of house and home

Joel Stonington

In every decision regarding the revisions to the Pitkin County land-use code, county commissioners and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission had to contend with the significant pressure to allow construction of more homes.”It’s a balancing act,” said Planning Commissioner Paul Rudnick. “I’m concerned about the affordability of housing here. I don’t want to see Aspen become a haven for second-home owner billionaires, forcing everyone else out because of economic constraints. The alternative, to open development on a massive scale and build 200-300-room apartment complexes would ameliorate the housing problem, but you would probably destroy the character of the county.”Much of the pressure on this rewrite was economic, and a major economic engine of this county is construction. Quite simply, more people are moving here who need places to live.The 2005 Rural Resort Region benchmark report projects population will nearly double in Pitkin County by 2030 and in just the last six years, home values have increased 77 percent in Pitkin County. That increase is due, in part, to limitations on growth. With a low density and a high quality of living, values skyrocket and eliminate cheap places to live. There are artificial constraints on the supply of housing, so artificially cheap housing is also necessary, though there isn’t anywhere near enough to meet the demand. “When one does all these things to increase the attractiveness of the place, does that not drive us toward a place where only the rich are able to take advantage of it? That was a concern of ours from the very beginning,” said Michael Kinsley, a county commissioner from 1975-85. “The cause is what might be called non-price sensitive demand, people that can pay virtually anything. We were thinking ahead enough to realize it would get worse very quickly. We started thinking about this in ’75. It may be the most aggressive affordable housing in the country. It wasn’t enough.”The land-use code continues in the footsteps of past commissioners such as Kinsley by regulating growth more under the revised code. The byproduct, skyrocketing values and very little low-cost housing, will likely continue as exactly that, a byproduct. “I want people to believe in the code and to be able to understand it,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said. “I wanted the code to embody and express in concrete terms many of the environmental values a lot of people believe in.”The revised land use code was published in The Aspen Times on March 26. Second reading of the code begins on Tuesday. Public hearings will run from 2 to 7 p.m. for three consecutive days (Tuesday through Thursday) with topics changing based on progress. The county expects to give final approval to the code on Thursday. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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