Residents want city to address bed-base problem
October 31, 2014
About 100 people attended the city of Aspen's two meetings this week on lodging incentives, and generally, respondents agreed that Aspen has a bed-base problem that the city should address.
That's according to findings from Jessica Garrow, Aspen's long range planner, who along with Community Development Director Chris Bendon helped draw up the city's lodge-incentive program, a controversial package the Aspen City Council repealed this summer in the face of a public referendum.
Participants attending the two meetings at the Aspen Fire Station were asked how aggressive the city should be in replacing lost lodging beds. Garrow said that in general, there was support for city involvement with low- to mid-level lodging. There was less support for high-end lodging assistance, she said.
As of Thursday, Garrow had not compiled data on building heights, affordable-housing mitigation or free-market residences, areas that respondents also addressed. She said she expects those data next week.
The council originally passed the lodge-incentive program — which would have allowed four-story lodges near Aspen Mountain, larger free-market residences, fee waivers and decreased affordable-housing requirements, among other incentives for developers — by a 3-2 margin on Aug. 11.
Shortly after, Aspen attorneys Bert Myrin and Cavanaugh O'Leary launched a petition to bring the issue to voters, garnering about 500 of the 641 required signatures in a 48-hour period. The council then repealed the ordinance, with Community Development vowing to continue working through the issues.
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O'Leary said Thursday that he did not attend this week's lodging meetings, as he and Myrin met with Garrow and Bendon shortly after the ordinance's repeal. His biggest concern was height, and he said that through the referendum effort, he believes the city got that message. He added that while he's not a lodging cheerleader, he believes Aspen needs more moderate-priced lodging, which he described as less than $400 per night.
"Our big consideration was that (the lodging package) does not seem to really address what they set out to address, and that's helping small and medium-sized lodging facilities," O'Leary said. "This seemed to be much more geared toward helping big developers in the end."
Bill Tomcich, president of reservations firm Stay Aspen Snowmass, attended one of the eight sessions offered this week, where respondents answered questions with clickers that produced immediate results. Tomcich said that Aspen's bed base is not only shrinking but deteriorating.
"We need to replenish what's been lost, and we need to refresh what is becoming dated," he said.
He called this week's meetings a better way to gauge resident opinions than are public discussions at City Hall, "where it's really easy for a local minority to carry a very loud voice and potentially a great deal of weight, when it may not be indicative of the opinions of the majority."
Tomcich called the repeal of the lodge-incentive program "disappointing," adding that he believes the height issue was positioned out of context, given the four-story inventory that already exists in downtown Aspen.
O'Leary, who develops real estate outside Colorado with a partner in Houston, suggested an absolute height restriction, adding that if a developer wants to build above it, the application should be subject to a public vote.
"If you really believe this is such a good deal for the citizens, let the citizens decide, and you the developer pay for the cost of that of taking it to the voters," he said. "I think that would eliminate a lot of this going in and asking for 55 feet when we really only need 42."