Editorial: Lodge incentives could shortchange affordable housing
Aspen’s lodging base needs help. Regardless of perceptions concerning Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomich’s data — which points to a 27 percent decline in Aspen’s short-term bed base between the 1994-95 and 2005-06 ski seasons — it’s clear, from the dozen or so lodges that have disappeared, that the trend needs to be reversed. In order to compete with newer resorts, Aspen needs newer and more lodges.
But incentives for these lodge operators should not be offered at the expense of Aspen’s affordable-housing program, which supports the people who run these businesses. Which brings us to the city of Aspen’s proposed changes, which would result in an estimated 66 percent reduction in affordable-housing mitigation for lodge operators participating in the lodge-incentive program. If this loss is unaddressed, it means more workers moving downvalley and more congestion on Highway 82 — a trend at odds with the Aspen Area Community Plan — and the council realizes this.
As Councilman Adam Frisch said, there is a tremendous amount of money in this community. And maybe it needs to be reallocated to reflect Aspen’s present values. The question is: How far does the city want to go in funding the program? How does it find a balance in juggling these priorities?
The lodge-incentive program is the biggest issue this particular council has faced. It doesn’t just affect Aspen’s hotels; it sets up policy for the next 10 years, which will shape the fabric of this community.
Another important item in the lodge program is the issue of allowing four-story structures in limited circumstances. Donnie Lee, general manager of The Gant, said city planners have been careful in writing very specific criteria for allowing four-story structures — “a path for controlled stability,” he said. But what gives us pause is the possibility of a slippery slope. Developers will always ask for as much as they can — and then some — so it’s not unlikely that if four-story requests are honored, Aspen will see five-story requests in the future.
And on the issue of free-market residential units, there is one underlying idea that should be remembered throughout the process. The driving force of a lodging project should be the lodge itself, not residential units. Lodge operators should expect a return over time, meaning a long-term effort rather than an immediate financial gain. This expectation will motivate sustainable hotel operators, not developers looking to make a quick buck.
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