Planners moving forward with lodging package
The Aspen Times
Small lodges and the potential for cash incentives will be a focal point as the Aspen City Council moves toward an official vote on the new lodging package, officials decided Monday.
With unanimous approval from the council, city planners will begin crafting exact language for the scaled-back version of Ordinance 19, a controversial package that was passed and then repealed in the face of public referendum in August. The public will have the chance to weigh in on the concepts when the council revisits the program in the new year.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, former mayor Mick Ireland suggested that the city view its small, economic lodging as infrastructure and fund it accordingly. This concept would involve cash incentives for small lodges to replenish and restore aging property. Planners have suggested including a “claw-back” provision, in which the cash would be returned if the lodge owner changes the property’s use after the partnership.
Instead of “just waiving fees, maybe we need to waive fees and give cash,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins suggested.
Referring to comments Councilman Adam Frisch made earlier about the new package being too watered down to have any impact, Councilman Art Daily said the city may need to take a serious look at long-term, public-private partnerships.
Ordinance 19 included language that would have allowed requests for four-story lodges near Aspen Mountain, larger free-market residences, fee waivers and decreased affordable-housing requirements, among other incentives for developers.
On Monday, Frisch pointed to the consultant opinions that Aspen’s bed base has been declining and deteriorating for 30 years. His take from various studies is that the city will need to have flexibility with affordable-housing requirements, height allowances and free-market residential units if it wants to see the trend reversed. He worried that the scaled-back package will have little effect.
“I’m all for trying to come up with some things to see if we can move forward, but I don’t think we should be surprised if, hey, we did all this stuff and nothing happened,” Frisch said, adding that he wants to see the town grow as slow as possible and yet remain vibrant.
Community Development Director Chris Bendon responded that if Frisch was asking if the package is worthwhile, the answer is “Yes.” He added that how far the city wants to take it is up to the council.
“To what degree are we really willing to invest in this and how aggressive, and when would you like us to work on this?” Bendon asked.
Mullins responded to Frisch’s concern that the package is not aggressive enough by saying the city needs to do something and act now.
“If it doesn’t do enough for us, then we adjust it,” she said, adding that another negative would be if the city went too far and had to scale code back.
Attorney Bert Myrin, who shot down the original ordinance with fellow attorney Cavanaugh O’Leary, suggested the city require developers to build within code, and any variance request significantly beyond that should be subject to public vote. He said this would allow developers to break ground almost immediately.
Frisch said he’s concerned about that approach because it might lead to an absence of development applications. If no one shows up to replenish the bed base, his worry is that 10 to 15 years from now, he’ll wonder what happened to Aspen.
Blanca O’Leary, Cavanaugh’s wife, shot back that the other end of the spectrum is seeing Aspen become Vail, full of “big, tall boxes.”
“If we become Vail, what will be the incentive to come to this very-difficult-to-get-to airport in the winter?” she asked.
David Corbin, vice president of planning and development at Aspen Skiing Co., said Aspen can’t allow the slow erosion of the bed base to continue. Perhaps the council is playing small ball, he said, but it doesn’t want to see its small lodges erode either.
Package concepts also involve potential changes to floor-area allowances, affordable-housing requirements and condominium rental requirements, among others.
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