Scott Bayens: Progress versus preservation debate is happening up and down the valley
The past few months have seen a number of “only in Aspen” headlines; many related to a topic a colleague of mine recently described as “beyond rational.” In a year we hoped to see the demise of our persistent, uninvited viral guest, real estate has remained newsworthy, to the delight of some and disgust of others.
First, city leaders in Aspen decided to tackle the “emergency” of explosive growth by quickly enacting legislation to halt all new residential development. Simultaneously, council members rolled out new requirements for short-term rentals (STRs), forcing owners of such properties to scramble for permits.
Pitkin County didn’t act as deliberately as the city, but they too are considering new requirements and guidelines for STRs. The Aspen Board of Realtors sued the city over both measures and won. But within hours the city enacted a new ordinance to take its place.
In the past month we’ve seen two unprecedented property flips: one a private home on Ajax and the other an acre of land at the base of the mountain approved for a hotel. Those two surprise transactions yielded the sellers $19 million and $66 million each above what they paid less than a year ago. This at a time when locals who own homes are cashing out and renters being forced out by exorbitant rents.
As a broker who specializes in the Aspen market as well as Basalt, Willits and Carbondale, I can tell you the word on downvalley living was out well before COVID hit. Coupled with the sudden, disruptive and unpredictable dynamics up-valley, what we call the midvalley is now the center of the “perfect” storm.
Not only are “Aspen escapees” headed down, so too are retirees, buyers bailing on big cities, and young families who can’t afford glitzy Aspen but who are willing to shell out over $1M for older, smaller homes and up to $3M-$4M for fresh stuff with all the bells and whistles.
And make no mistake, the fight over new development, and the distrust of those who are poised to profit from it, is no less contentious midvalley than upvalley. And like Aspen, the threat of change runs afoul of those who have been around for years or generations, who don’t want the growth or the demise of what they think the community ought be remain. Heartbreaking for some, welcome progress for others; this has been and will remain the issue of our time.
In Basalt, lots at Stotts Mill are nearly sold out, as are new townhomes at River Park. The old grocery store in the center of town is soon to be home to mixed-use residential and commercial space.
Over in Willits, with Steadman’s ribbon cutting earlier this month and the TACAW performance venue up and running, it’s nearly done. Drive around and you’re sure to find a newly opened street or store, many down from Aspen.
Carbondale is also experiencing its own metamorphosis. There’s a new City Market and relocated restaurants along Highwat 133. Dozens of new spec homes have replaced vacant lots in River Valley Ranch and Aspen Glen.
Still to come is the Tree Farm across from Willits that is approved for a hotel, commercial and residential units. And then there’s the controversial Fields project across from Blue Lake which remains under consideration.
Traffic is the main concern, as hundreds more cars are expected to overwhelm a tangle of poorly planned roads and streets never meant to handle the projected volumes. There are also legitimate concerns the affordable housing component the projects are required to bring online are already financially out of reach.
In an eloquent letter to the editor a few weeks back, former Aspen mayor and real estate agent Bill Stirling suggested a more balanced approach, and wrote the answer is neither overreach on the part of public officials nor unchecked development. Locals, second-home owners and visitors all have skin in the game, and therefore must find a way to work together on finding solutions.
Like it or not, change has come and the impacts are here to stay. In my view, the conversation should no longer revolve around why we should or shouldn’t create new spaces to live and work. NIMBY or the status quo is no longer acceptable. As important, we work together as a community, listen and participate as we head down the road of progress.
Scott Bayens is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Visit his website at http://www.aspendreamhome.com.
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