The ignorance and arrogance of City Council |

The ignorance and arrogance of City Council

Our elected officials and municipal bureaucrats are planning for a busy offseason. Buckle up for some dramatic changes to Aspen’s land-use code in order to fund more subsidized housing.

Look for limiting future demolitions, residential down-zoning, increased fees and mitigation, and allowing subsidized housing development in more zoning districts with new height and density allowances. In other words, where private property owners will be dramatically limited and financially penalized when aspiring to redevelop their properties, subsidized housing can and will be built almost anywhere and to very different and very permissive zoning standards.

These impending changes are specifically to address Aspen’s “housing shortage” and, of course, the global climate emergency. We all know our housing crisis isn’t a shortage, rather, it’s deliberate mismanagement of ski country’s largest subsidized housing inventory, and council is simply choosing to provide housing for the never-ending demand of people who want to live affordably in Aspen regardless of the jobs they hold. And somehow, it’s strictly free market residential redevelopment that’s the climate culprit. Here, the climate miraculously “un-emergencies” itself for subsidized housing development.

The city paid $358,000 for “community outreach” on how people “feel” about recent changes in town. Where are the studies that specifically describe or quantify the crises council is trying to solve? Where are the reports on which businesses are struggling to hire and stay open? A housing audit and needs assessment? The only real crisis is that none of the planned changes are based on facts. The entire exercise is in response to feelings.

Ever reactionary and emotional, City Council simply doesn’t like what they see, especially when it comes to free market real estate re-development: there’s too much activity, the houses are so big and fancy and expensive, and people are maximizing what’s allowable under existing rules. Therefore, these must change, immediately.

The thinly veiled effort to stick it to the free market is intellectually dishonest and hypocritical. They say residential redevelopment will fill up the landfill by 2031, while also creating traffic and generating untenable levels of carbon emissions. So instead, they promote the development of new, high-density, multi-family, subsidized housing. Never mind it makes no sense to identify one thing as bad for the community (redevelopment) then present a solution that taxes it in order to fuel another thing (subsidized housing development) with the same or worse impacts. From a purely environmental perspective, the responsible thing would be to maximize the utility of what we already have, not build more.

Furthermore, the stated goal of a “full, lived-in community” sounds warm, fuzzy and utopian on its face. According to Councilman Skippy Mesirow, a community with the “lights on,” all the time, would somehow make Aspen “the community we want to be.” But wait, isn’t the current moratorium on residential development and short-term rental permits in response to council’s frustration with the impacts of having so many more people here? Could it be that they are boldly prioritizing people whose lights they want on more than others, people who live in subsidized housing, perhaps?

It sure sounds like it. The circular logic and contradictions stem from the prevailing belief that, according to Mesirow, “growth occurs when non-Aspenites move here,” which is at the very root of council’s petty, spiteful and antithetical plans.

Our electeds are tragically ignorant of the difference between growth and economic activity. Aspen has long worked to manage and control growth, which can be thought of as additional capacity: the development of more hotel rooms, more homes, expansion onto previously undeveloped land, and sprawl. We have recently experienced a dramatic uptick in economic activity, not growth. Hotels at full occupancy, second-home owners moving into their homes or renting them out regularly, and people purchasing homes here, even at unprecedented prices, are signs of robust economic activity, but that’s because we’re full. We’re at capacity. These are the effects of a “full, lived-in community,” but no, it’s certainly not “the community we want to be.” Not in my book. And clearly not in Mesirow’s either, but for different reasons. While desirous of being “full” and “lived-in,” town is filling up with “non-Aspenites,” and City Council demands this stop.

Meanwhile, the latest plan to develop subsidized housing on newly annexed land at the Lumberyard will increase our capacity for as many as 700 “Aspenites.” This, without question, is growth. And sprawl. It stands to increase our year-round population nearly 10%. Yet somehow, this growth is OK, despite the inherent increase in year-round demand for local services and still no housing for the workforce. “Aspenites” in subsidized housing apparently count differently. Besides, council just reduced the Lumberyard’s density by 30 units for “livability,” and they’re changing the floorplans to include master suites, stand-alone bathtubs and walk-in closets; in other words, large, custom, subsidized luxury condos for middle-class families.

Just wait until you hear about the proposed regulations that include a vacancy tax and subsidized buy-downs of free market properties. It’s only just begun. This perverse wealth redistribution to select “Aspenites,” at the increasing expense of others, stands to divide us in ways we’ve never contemplated.

People living in subsidized housing are no more entitled to live here than people in the free market. The “we built this community so we deserve it” mentality is toxic, and not at all reflective of the community we aspire to be. Contact