Elizabeth Milias: Fodder for the ‘told ya so’ file | AspenTimes.com

Elizabeth Milias: Fodder for the ‘told ya so’ file

This won’t end well. City Council’s well-intended but counter-productive decisions will have dramatic consequences, none of them good. In fact, Aspen’s favorite visitor, the law of unintended consequences, just put down permanent roots in town. The recent emergency moratorium-related ordinances governing short-term rentals (STR), residential development and subsidized housing mitigation fees are going to spectacularly backfire and make far worse the very conditions they are intended to fix.

The issues were prioritized as a result of the pandemic. Council didn’t like what it saw. The legislation is less about solutions and more about punishment. The outreach sessions were all for show. The predetermined regulations were targeted, punitive and divisive. Even public comments were categorized by what the commenter’s “role” is in the community. Old-time local? Council was all ears, unless you’re a developer. Self-employed, full-time, free-market property owner? No respect for you, villain.

With the sole intent of targeting free-market property owners, council is blinded by their naivete, class envy and wealth redistribution goals to comprehend the mess they have made.

STRs are going underground. Intended to reduce neighborhood impacts, notably parking, and eliminating lodging for what council sees as undesirable visitors who are displacing locals, the new STR regulations are designed to rein in Aspen’s boogeyman. In reality, the complicated legislation limiting permits inherently and immediately exacerbates the growing wedge between “local” homeowners and others who own property here. Locals who intend to rent their “owner occupied” homes short term get to abide by one set of rules, while others must adhere to different ones because their second homes and investment properties are now considered “mini hotels.”

When STRs are capped, basic economics will prove that limiting supply in a high-demand environment results in one outcome: higher prices. In great irony, council’s desire to control the tourism market in order to remain a viable destination for anyone other than the most well-heeled visitors has just ensured hotel room rates will go through the roof to levels even fewer can now afford. These higher lodging prices will also entice others into quietly renting their homes to meet the demand, regardless of the city’s policies. Cue the black market. There’s always been one in Aspen.

The demolition market becomes speculative. Intended to reduce construction traffic and neighborhood impacts, and preserve older homes regardless of their condition or useful life, the new ordinance limits the number of demos on an annual basis to just six. This is in response to 14 demolitions in the city in 2021, mostly of homes that were more than 50 years old. These were modest homes on larger lots, and the new, more efficient homes were built to approved sizes within the existing land-use code. Never mind it’s healthy for a community to replace older homes with newer ones. But council didn’t like what it saw. To them, all construction is bad.

It’s now time for any single family home or duplex owner in the city whose home is at least 20 years old to apply for one of the now rare annual demolition allotments. With a demo allotment in hand, won in what amounts to a lottery, the value of one’s property will skyrocket. For others who cannot scrape and replace the home on their property, the surrounding neighborhood is now in for multiple lengthier, messier and far more complicated remodels, 39.9% of the home at a time, to stay below the allowable 40% threshold. Construction activity and its impacts will assuredly continue; the majority of projects in town will just take longer.

Fee-in-lieu is arbitrary. The illogical mitigation calculus reflects a consultant’s convenient cart-before-the-horse study that attempts to justify re-quantifying the generation of construction workers and household operations and maintenance workers from residential development activity in order to generate more money for subsidized housing that is specifically not for these workers. One might assume that worker housing mitigation might attempt to increase housing opportunities for such workers to live in Aspen or Pitkin County so as to minimize the troublesome traffic, parking and other impacts, but it does not. The irony is that the intended mitigation is for housing non-worker community members who have higher priority than the actual workers creating the mitigation, so in the end, the workers will still commute, create traffic and parking problems, and perpetuate the perception of a lack of housing for workers, and the cycle will continue.

If you watched or attended the council meetings, you saw for yourself. The new ordinances are nothing more than a deliberate attempt to punish and control the free market through a massive wealth transfer and special carve-outs for “locals,” however that is defined. There never was an emergency; it was all about feelings. None of this is rational, well-reasoned nor thought out. It’s strictly punitive. It isn’t about changing private property regulations, it’s about wielding power and control over private property owners. These tone-deaf policies will only make the problems worse.

The basic tenets of economics such as the law of supply and demand are completely lost on city council and staff. Aspen is worse off  for this incompetence. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net


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