Vail eyes Aspen’s housing model
January 19, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoVAIL Vail wants developers to build more employee housing. Developers say Vail is asking them to do too much.But in Aspen and Pitkin County, developers have long been subject to strict housing requirements.In unincorporated Pitkin County, developers must pay fees to compensate for anywhere from 25 percent to 100 percent of the jobs they create both directly and indirectly.The city of Aspen considers both the size of a new development and the number of jobs it will create when it decides how much employee housing must be built.Officials from Aspens building office didnt return calls for this story, but Tom McCabe, executive director for Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, said developers in the city generally have to build six employee homes of out every 10 homes they build.Michael Kinsley was on the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners when it started passing affordable housing requirements for builders in the late 70s.The intent wasnt only to create more employee housing the laws were passed in concert with rules intended to slow growth, Kinsley said. Traffic, noise, air pollution community disruption were perceived ills of growth, he said.Thats why they put us in office, Kinsley said.Rip-offs will leaveWhen the requirements were proposed, developers complained, he said. The commissioners listened to them, but pushed ahead with making the laws. And the laws didnt stop developers from knocking on their door, he said.One of the effects of doing this is the really bad developers left and the good ones stuck around, Kinsley said.Protests from developers in Vail are predictable, he said. But good developers will understand that employee housing is part of the infrastructure necessary to make homes valuable, he said.It would have been impossible to imagine that those kinds of protests would not be made, he said. … And theyre nonsense. What will happen is the rip-off developers will leave and the good developers that understand that all of these measures created better value and community will stick around.Vail is considering an inclusionary zoning law that would require 30 percent of new homes to be affordable. But Kinsley said the town should considering going as high as 50 percent in order to keep up with demand for employee housing.Too tough?Kinsley said Jim Light is one of the good developers who stuck around. Light and his partner, Jim Chaffin, were among the first developers in Snowmass Village.About one out of four homes they built in Snowmass starting in the late 70s had to be employee housing due to the towns requirements. Building the housing was consistent with their philosophy of being community developers, he said.Weve always taken a very long-term view of community development, as distinguished from someone that wants to sell out and move on, Light said.But Light warned that requirements can be so high they stifle development. Then, the towns wont get any housing at all.Government controls can get out of hand, he said.Aspens requirements border on the unfeasible, he said. Basalts recently upped requirements are so onerous little has been built there, he said.The rules need to be really thought out so the town of Vail gets what it wants, Light said. They could be so onerous, the city wont get developed, and it wont getaffordable housing.Balanced communityThe building rules are just part of the source of affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley, McCabe said.The city has a real estate transfer tax and a sales tax that are dedicated to affordable housing. The housing authority has about 2,700 worker housing units, from rentals to for-sale condos and houses, McCabe said.The county aims to house 60 percent of its workforce in employee housing, McCabe said. And new projects in Aspen are usually 60 percent affordable housing, McCabe said.If they want to put in 10 units, six of them are going to be affordable housing, he said.The city wanted to ensure a sense of community, and they wanted to make sure their policemen, firemen, doctors and nurses lived locally, he said.We want a balanced community where we have workers who are vested in the community, he said. Not so they travel 50 miles, collect their paycheck and go home. If they work and live here they have a higher degree of responsibility. They care about it.Where would people live?Colin Laird, director of Healthy Mountain Communities, a Basalt-based nonprofit, said the Roaring Fork Valleys housing requirements have been successful.There wouldnt be much of a community without it, he said. Where would people live?Every single community in the Roaring Fork Valley has some type of inclusionary zoning requirement, Laird said.Affordable housing in a way is another part of the infrastructure the community must think about, he said.But inclusionary zoning is just one method to keep up with demand for housing. To catch up for past deficiencies, towns and counties have to use creative methods.Vail is looking to the Timber Ridge redevelopment to help catch up with the employee housing deficit.
Heres a rundown of the affordable housing stock in Aspen and Pitkin County:For-sale homes, city: 826.For-sale homes, county: 567.Rental homes, city: 1,172.Rental homes, county: 126.Source: Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority