Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Suppose you have a dozen gold bricks in your basement and somebody says, “Have you heard the news? The government announced that they are going to make it much more difficult to mine gold. Less of it is going to be produced and the cost of extracting it is going up dramatically. Nobody is going to want it anymore because it will be too expensive. Its value is going to plummet!”
Ridiculous, right? It makes less sense than Yogi Berra describing an old favorite watering hole: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
The example is relevant because while we may not all have gold bricks in our basements, we do have common ownership in a goose that lays golden eggs and its name is the Aspen Area Community Plan (AACP). And, some people are arguing that AACP v 2.011 is going to put an end to economic life as we know it in Aspen. Why? Because it is going to severely limit development by radically raising the cost of building.
I heard or read somebody somewhere the other day exhort all of us to read the new AACP. He or she assured that it was an easy read and worth the investment of time because it is absolutely frightening. Well, I did read it and beg to differ.
The AACP is boring. It is short on data and long on sentiment and gut feelings, which doesn’t mean it is wrong, by the way. And, at times it appears to be trying to convince us of what we are already trying to convince ourselves of every day: Life is good in Aspen. For those new to the AACP, it has never been a pro-growth manifesto and it still isn’t. I can summarize the pertinent and controversial new content in the AACP v 2.011 that is allegedly going to destroy us as follows:
Developers will have to provide community workforce housing (f.k.a. employee housing) for 100 percent of the new jobs their new projects will generate.
Seriously. This is all you have to know and you are up to speed in the debate over whether or not our community should adopt this updated plan.
The argument against this requirement is that development of new properties will become so expensive that nobody will invest in new projects. If they don’t invest here, the town will become stale. If the town becomes stale, tourists and second-home owners will stop coming. If tourists and second-home owners stop coming here, Vail wins. Boo hoo, at least we’ll still have The Bowl.
Scary! But, don’t clasp the garlic necklace just yet. What the egocentric anti-AACP crowd has forgotten, or at least conveniently omitted from the argument, is that developers do not alone set the prices of real estate based on their costs. Buyers have the bigger say in it.
So, since we now remember that prices for real estate are actually determined by The Market rather than by developers, and prices will be what they will be, we can see that real estate values are not going to drop because of the higher cost of doing business, and that what the anti-AACP crowd is really complaining about is that their profit margins will be cut into, or in-two, whatever the case may be.
Where will some of those former profits go? Well, they will take the form of subsidized housing and go to the employees who will be working at, and living in the new projects to ensure they are economically viable into the future. Call it a profit-sharing plan, if you like, and it might even make the properties more valuable to end users by enabling them to retain good workers.
In addition, with the cost of doing real estate going up, front-end profits are going down. This is good! It will force developers to think longer and harder rather than just throwing up timeshares. Since they will no longer be able to make most of the profit from the project up front, they will have to come up with better building ideas that will necessarily have to serve this community profitably for years to come.
Is the scheme socialistic? Absolutely. 100 percent. Without a doubt. And, that irritates the brown eggs out of a lot of people. But, like it or not, we adopted this scheme and all of its entitlement accouterments a long time ago and nobody is going to reverse that course now. If you insist on trying, be careful what you strive towards. Nobody can argue that the formula hasn’t worked over the years; hogs who stayed too long at the trough excepted.
I’ve been around long enough to remember when a local high school kid named Chapin Wright came up with the brilliant idea for our current pedestrian mall in the ’70s. Few will believe that the vocal anti-government crowd then cried bloody murder when The City began to experimentally block off downtown streets with pine log planters. Businesses in the core were going to become worthless! Shoppers weren’t going to put up with the inconvenience of not being able to park in front of the stores! Aspen was through! (Which was almost true when rents for those exceedingly popular stores began exceeding $200 per square foot 30 years later.)
Similar cries were heard when the county and city up-zoned lot sizes, capped housing square footage, implemented paid parking, went nuts with historical preservation, and outlawed smoking in public places. Does our local set of rules make perfect sense? Far from it. Oftentimes bureaucratic life in Aspen is a confusing nightmare of skiing crud-covered rocks with no access to corduroy groomers in sight. But, raise your hand if you didn’t know that coming in. Argue if you want, but local real estate ordinances keep lots of lawyers, landscapers, insurers, planners, architects, accountants, appraisers, bankers, brokers, builders, and newspaper columnists busy, and pretty well paid – newspaper columnists excepted.
So, the AACP is undeniably irritating, verbose, overly idealistic, constraining, condescending, and redundant. But, let’s not get hasty and kill the goose that lays our golden eggs. At times she may resemble a cackling old hen, but she’s still productive enough to keep us all fed.
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