Land code: Consider the impacts
Pitkin County and Aspen have been my beloved home since 1954. I consider myself a local, as I have rarely left the valley for more than two weeks per year during the last 52 years. Many years I never ventured further than Glenwood Springs. When I first arrived, the road to Glenwood was rough gravel; Aspen had only one paved street and only one or two law enforcement officers on duty at any given time. I believed, and still believe, I had found heaven on earth. I have observed over the years various new groups coming to town and discovering the unique qualities of this beautiful area. Inevitably, every 10 years or so, the latest group of “nouveaux” locals would rally together and try to pull up the sidewalk, fearing invasion from the outside world. This resulted in the beginning of land-use regulations and the gradual decline in the “live and let live” philosophy that previously existed. Perhaps they were only trying to perpetuate the lifestyle they experienced when they fell in love with Aspen, or more likely, they were unwilling to share their paradise with others. Whatever the reason, the land-use code and growth management evolved with a vengeance, each revision more restrictive than the one before it. These same people have been forced to earn their livings from a tourist-based economy, which presents a dilemma to those who wish to preserve their vision of Aspen. With successful marketing comes added tourism. With added tourism comes the need for more employees. More residents require additional housing, parking and other community services. To add insult to injury, we have provided such a great experience for tourists that many elect to buy second homes in our community. It would be difficult for any land-use code to adequately address the concerns and issues presented by such conflicting interests. Like it or not, growth is a reality in any thriving tourist-based economy. Regulation of growth is critical, but must be carefully crafted to address the rights of current property owners, those who don’t own property, and those who will own property here in the future. Commissioners, please remember that no matter what version of the land-use code is enacted, they will still come, they will still purchase whatever is available. It is time to acknowledge that the county’s periodic reduction of our property values in the name of growth management will not bring back “paradise lost.” Nor will it prevent future growth. Only the evolution of our collective social conscience, as it relates to the highest, best and most equitable use of land, will lead to effective growth management. Eventually, and without any further regulation by the county, the 15,000-square-foot trophy homes will be torn down and replaced with smaller, more energy efficient homes, or renovated into three or four luxury condominiums. Each of these new units will no doubt sell for many times the current price of the mammoth single-family home. Demand will drive supply. I am appealing to the Board of County Commissioners to consider who they are impacting by enacting the latest installment of the land-use code. Why must the county regulate growth by taking away our residents’ property rights? Why can’t the county consider providing incentives to our citizens and future citizens to build in a more environmentally friendly manner? Growth management should be voluntary and should be acknowledged and rewarded. Tax credits, TDRs and other monetary and social incentives could be offered to property owners willing to restrict the size and location of structures on their property. Alternatively, if the county believes imposing restrictive land-use regulations is imperative to manage future growth, the county must grandfather existing owners in perpetuity and possibly their immediate transferees for a period of time. In other words, the current property owner could build under the existing land-use code for as long as he or she owns the property. If he elects to sell, in order to avail himself of the provisions of the current land-use code, he may sell within a three- to five-year period to a new owner who could build under the former regulations within that time frame. This would provide all current property owners with the ability to maximize their property values, which for many of us constitute our life savings. It is time to let Aspen and Pitkin County evolve gracefully while maintaining a high quality of life for its residents. I encourage the Board of County Commissioners and the Aspen City Council to respect the property rights of all concerned by considering the overall impact of the revisions to the land-use code on the many residents who would suffer serious financial impacts as a result. Those of us who work for a living appreciate your taking the time to listen. Marta Steinmetz is a longtime local resident.
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Last week, The Aspen Times ran an article about limiting home size in Aspen and Pitkin County. One might think that climate change is finally poking at the Aspen bubble.