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Scott Bayens: Influx has Aspen back to its extremes

Scott Bayens
Deeded Interest
Scott Bayens

It’s game on again in Aspen. In fact, for many of those in the service industry — retail, hotel, restaurant or trades like construction, architecture, landscaping and of course real estate — it’s been that way since this time last year. Nonstop. Full tilt. Head down.

For those in this boom or bust town long before the word pandemic, being busy is a good thing. Most of us around here are taking advantage of the times and squirreling away what we can, while we can. But it’s become harder of late to remember to take the time to do the things that brought us here; a hike, a bike ride or tying a fly on the line.

So welcome, visitors, and welcome back, part-time homeowners. We heard you were coming and have been putting in extra hours preparing for what’s sure to be another crazy post-COVID summer. They say the “Roaring Twenties” have returned; so enjoy, let loose and go native.



The party certainly has been in full swing while you were away with no signs of stopping. This spring saw the area’s priciest commercial sale as the storied Melville family sold one of Aspen’s oldest and iconic lodges for $68 million. An quaint and affordable option for nearly 70 years, the Mountain Chalet across from Wagner Park was bought by the same Austin, Texas-based hospitality group who owns Clark’s Seafood in the old Little Annie’s space.

Earlier this month, a 21,000-square-foot residence at the base of Red Mountain sold for $72.5 million dollars. The home, at 419 Willoughby Way, was purchased by Patrick Dovigi, a Canadian and former professional hockey player who is now founder and CEO of an environmental waste company. The sale was the most expensive in Pitkin County history and is just one of 5 homes sold north of $40 million since the 1990s.



As of this week, 30 homes above $20 million have sold since lockdown was lifted. That used to represent more than four years of inventory. There are currently 26 active listings available in that same price-range this summer. Three of those are under contract and it’s anyone’s guess who might be a quiet seller should knock on the door and ask what amount of money it might take for the owner to call a moving van, pack up the fine wine and hit the road.

If you operate at this altitude and play the local high-end development game, you know what a TDR is. TDRs (or Transferable Development Rights) give the holder the right to exceed the country’s square footage maximum. With the max at 5,750 square feet, if you want to build to 15,000 square feet, you’ll need four of them. Pre-corona, they used to trade around $300,000 each. Three sold this month for $850,000 each. That’s more than $2.5 million for an 7,500 additional square feet. Not the dirt, not the improvements, just the right to go big.

And over at Pitkin County Community Development there are nearly 50 applications in the pipeline now, and another dozen yet to be assigned. The department has also seen a few departures of late. That means it’s likely to take at least 12 months to secure a building permit. So pull up those big boy pants and hold on tight as those taxes, soft costs, fees and TDRs add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars before you can put a shovel in the ground.

In some ways, the Aspen dream has morphed to the Aspen extreme. Offseason seems a thing of the past, monsoons have yielded to wildfires, gridlock at the traffic circle extending to the airport and the old-guard on a collision course with the nouveau venu. COVID seems under control around these parts but the fatigue is palpable and hard to shake.

Case in point, some of the letters to the editor lately have been off the charts. One long-time local went off on a local developer threatening a never-ending opposition campaign, and a relatively new arrival suggested those who are struggling should be more grateful and stop whining because “we all have it so good here.”

With so many here now from the big city, those who came before know it takes a while to decompress, adjust to the thin air and the slower pace. And it seems in these times we must help each other take it down a notch and remember while we’re all here. The Aspen Ideal of mind, body, spirit just doesn’t belong to the long-time local, it’s also available to the open-minded, pure-hearted, well-intentioned newcomer.

A high-powered CEO who recently relocated here full time admitted he has no plans to go back home and believes the move will increase his life expectancy 10 years. That’s wonderful, so long as he and other high-powered execs remember to keep the phones off the trails and hand off the horn.

But let’s be honest, these days and at this pace, we can all heed that reminder lest the sounds of “Ripplin’ Water” and visions of a ”Rocky Mountain High” remain hidden from all of us who aspire to become “Gypsies in the Palace.”

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him at http://www.aspendreamhome.com.


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