Developers should pay
August 19, 2007
Last week, the city’s building department reported a shortfall because development fees are not keeping up with administrative costs. That’s not the only shortfall of development in the Roaring Fork Valley as the costs of growth soar.The recent shooting of a Glenwood Springs police officer and the latest high-rise development in Aspen are related. Crime and growth go hand-in-hand, and it’s time we face criminal activity as another cost of growth in the valley.Development should pay its own way. So it’s up to local governments to assess developers with mitigation fees for growth-related impacts, from road rage to environmental degradation, to a litany of social ills that follow growth, including crime.As rural communities are urbanized by development, rapid change undermines local values and social norms. The result is social disorganization, which fosters crime. When there are pronounced divisions between economic classes and ethnic groups, problems escalate. That’s what we’re seeing today in the Roaring Fork Valley.Most of us try to ignore it, assuring ourselves that our neighborhoods are safe, that our children are safe, that local crimes are random. Meanwhile, developers tell us that massive developments are good for our economy and personal well-being, even when the associated problems of rapid growth are clear. The most obvious of these is traffic.Four-laning Highway 82 created an urban context that has raised the intensity of living. Traffic jams, which are now regular events, escalate that intensity. Monitoring our local roads is like taking the pulse of a community with high blood pressure; the arteries are clogged with cars, trucks and buses. Our valley is facing a terminal case of high blood pressure, and much of it is development-related.Is rising crime attributable to ubiquitous construction in Aspen, Base Village at Snowmass, Willits Town Center in El Jebel, the newest monster home on Castle Creek? There is a direct correlation between a surge in itinerant labor and crime, so yes, these developments help foster community-wide problems.We’ve become a boomtown destination, where a flood of population is destabilizing social equilibrium. The first things stressed are vital community services – police, hospitals, schools, sewage, water, social services and physical infrastructure. Growth is not paying its own way here, and communities caught in rapid growth rarely catch up, leaving taxpayers to pick up the slack.If future energy development, namely oil shale, attracts legions of workers to Colorado, things will get worse. Extractive industries are infamous for spurring disastrous social impacts. Luxury land development does the same, albeit less conspicuously and with widespread denial from those who profit.Developers plead for higher densities to increase their profit margins, and when high density is coupled with ever-increasing demand for luxury services, communities are overwhelmed by huge infusions of labor. The social costs are not born by developers, but by existing residents who underwrite development by paying higher taxes while mourning a declining quality of life.For every housing unit that goes up in this valley, the labor force expands. Then comes additional services that cater to the construction force, boosting population valleywide. For every unit built, there will be at least two cars added to our roads. Add more cars for construction workers, and you’ve got a huge multiplier that compounds social stress.Developers should be required to pay mitigation fees for the offsite impacts of their developments, and that means more than employee housing. It means paying for road repairs, water and sewer expansions, school construction, police hiring and training, and regional environmental impacts. It means underwriting social service organizations strained by rapid change.Developers should pay for the costs of the growth they generate and from which they profit. Perhaps then they will downscale their projects and slow the pace that’s clogging roadways, reducing quality of life, and adding to the social disruption that opens the door to crime.Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays.
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