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Population forecasts missing big picture?

Population forecasts indicate that Pitkin County will grow slowly over the next 25 years and remain one of the smallest counties in Colorado.

But the state demographer says it is a deceiving picture that doesn’t take into account the explosive growth anticipated in part-time residents who buy second homes in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Jim Westkott, director of the demography section of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, said mountain regions of the state as well as Western Slope locales like Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction can expect an escalating number of second-home owners as baby boomers enter their 50s and 60s.

In Pitkin County, the U.S. Census Bureau found a permanent population of 15,913 in 2000. It is forecasting growth to 16,822 residents next year and 18,906 residents by 2010. By 2030 the county’s population is expected to be 27,152.

The Census Bureau foresees the annual growth rate hovering between 1.5 and 2.4 percent.

Westkott said the flaw in the census is that it doesn’t account for part-time residents living in second homes. These people have tremendous impacts on the Aspen area, from pumping millions of dollars into the economy to generating the need for service workers.

A study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments last year showed that more than 50 percent of the housing units in Pitkin County are second homes. There were a total of 10,185 housing units, according to the study’s research of data from 2001; 5,618, or 55 percent, were second homes.

The impacts of second homes will be one of the key topics discussed Friday, April 30, at The State of the Valley Symposium. Healthy Mountain Communities, a local nonprofit, hosts the annual event, which brings in local, state and nationally recognized speakers to talk about trends and issues that are shaping the region.

Westkott will discuss how the valley’s demographics are expected to change.

He believes second-home development will continue to push out housing for permanent residents. If areas like Aspen don’t take aggressive enough steps to address the problem, “it will be like a theme park,” Westkott said. He foresees Aspen’s workers coming from farther and farther away.

“Dealing with the problem in some way is better than letting it go,” Westkott said.

Sticking affordable housing “into every nook and cranny” is one possible solution, he noted. However, that creates its own problems by increasing the local population, which, in turn, creates additional growth pressures with the need for schools, public transportation and other services.

Still, increasing the number of second homes will bring benefits along with problems. Linda Venturoni, director of special projects for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said the organization will unveil the second half of its comprehensive study on the impacts of second home at The State of the Valley Symposium. Venturoni is another of the featured speakers.

The council of governments performed an economic impact study to see how much money second homes pump into counties like Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin. The study also analyzes the impacts of skiing and summer tourism on the economy.

“We did think second homes were a pretty big driver. That was confirmed by the study,” said Venturoni.

The State of the Valley Symposium will be held Friday, April 30, at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost is $65 for adults and $25 for students. The price includes a light breakfast, lunch and snacks. Advance reservations can be made by logging on to Healthy Mountain Community’s Web site at http://www.hmccolorado.org. Information is also available online about the speakers.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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