Residential development moratorium reinstated in Aspen
Aspen City Council passes new ordinance and directs staff to pursue mitigation measures for growth in new development, short-term rental industries
A procedural mistake that Aspen City Council had to correct through the passage of a new ordinance banning new residential development within city limits opened the floor for critics to again voice their displeasure on the moratorium during a special meeting Tuesday.
Council voted unanimously on the second reading of Ordinance 6, which imposes a moratorium on new land-use applications seeking development or approval, and certain building permits for residential uses until June 8.
It replaces Ordinance 27, which enacted the same moratorium on Dec. 8, when dozens of people who work in the real estate industry packed into council chambers and protested the legislation.
They only had a day to respond as council introduced the emergency ordinance during a Dec. 7 meeting without notice, which a judge last week ruled violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
Ninth Judicial District Judge Anne Norrdin’s temporary injunction left Monday and a portion of Tuesday with the moratorium on residential development unenforceable.
The ruling is part of a lawsuit filed against the city and council members by the Aspen Board of Realtors, some of whom spoke during Tuesday’s meeting, reiterating their comments made during the Dec. 8 public hearing.
They said the moratorium and the council’s handling of their concerns are tone deaf, unfair, unwarranted, insulting, ineffective, ridiculous, disappointing, confusing, covert, surreptitious and disingenuous, to name several terms used.
Some of them asked council members to explain what the emergency is, which elected officials have done previously and did again on Tuesday.
“Guys, I am asking you to second guess yourselves,” said real estate agent Bob Bowden. “This can be done better.”
Council placed a six-month moratorium on new residential development, as well as issuing permits for short-term rentals through Sept. 30, so officials can align the city’s land-use codes concerning growth, affordable housing mitigation, climate and other impacts that the industries are creating on the resort community.
“I’d like to address this idea that this moratorium is dividing the community,” Councilman John Doyle said. “From my point of view, the community’s been divided for quite some time. It’s obvious a large part of our community makes a living and treating our community as a commodity and our community is currently out of balance … the business as usual is not sustainable for our community or our planet.”
Several opponents suggested that code changes and updates to affordable housing mitigation regulations can be done outside of a moratorium, which is therefore unnecessary.
Mayor Torre said it is necessary and not something he or his colleagues wanted to do, but they are trying to do a lot of significant work to make the moratorium as short as possible.
“The comments I get from other communities are two: I get people that say, ‘We are so proud of you and in some ways jealous that we could just stop for a moment and have these conversations with our community and come up with guidelines that are going to serve us better in the future,’” he said. “That is why I believe that this is a good pause for us to have these conversations and move forward with policies that are going to lead us to a better future, and I think a lot of you know that the road we are on is not sustainable.”
Council later Tuesday in a work session gave staff direction on the pace and scale of development and affordable housing opportunities.
Acknowledging that limiting square footage is a contentious issue among property owners due to devaluation, council agreed to pursue mitigation measures around affordable housing, energy use and transportation, as many properties being used as short-term rentals require many employees and are large in size.
Aspen resident Jim Pomeroy, who works for the city but was speaking as a citizen during Tuesday’s special meeting, said he has talked to hundreds of people who support what council is doing and the work being done by staff.
“I really commend you for all taking the brave stances that you have,” he said. “I encourage you to continue down this road. … You need to look at all the rules, you need to look at the studies, look at everything else to consider what changes need to be made, how to make them and try to do that under the pressure of constant, constant, constant permits.
“This is the only way it makes sense to do a proper job of looking at what possible changes you might want to make.”
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.