Roger Marolt: Preserving our road less traveled
The Town of Snowmass Village council is taking its time on short-term rentals
The Town of Snowmass Village council is taking its time. They will not jump swiftly into the tracks of the City of Aspen on the path to control the booming effects of short-term rentals that have taken resort areas around the world by a storm that nobody saw coming. Blame it on COVID-19, if you like, but the virus only sped up this inevitable change.
The problem — if it is one; residents are seemingly divided 98% to 2% on the issue — with absentee homeowners leading the charge in favor of the online rentals that basically turn their empty houses into hotels is that our streets, sidewalks, restaurants, shops, trails, forests, ski slopes, golf courses and all other amenities are being overrun by visitors now avalanching into town in numbers never anticipated.
The City of Aspen took dramatic action, seemingly in the middle of the night, to put the clamps on things in order to buy time to take a look and figure out what to do about this. The Town of Snowmass, on the other hand, decided to take a passive approach, no clamps necessary. There’s no decisive action planned for the near future, just a lot more discussion and information collection.
To me, it seems like they’re saying, “You never know, things may work themselves out before we can agree on anything that might help, so what’s the point of trying?”
Strangely enough, I find myself sort of agreeing with our elected leaders here. It is probably better to chill for a minute and do nothing than hastily approve another Base Village or Mammoth bone replica museum.
In this time of contemplation over what to do, if anything, about this seismic shift in tourist accommodations that will affect our town now and forevermore, I offer one thing for our elected officials to think about, draw doodles over and paint pictures of:
Please note that we don’t have a string of traffic between here and the Intercept Lot every morning and afternoon like Aspen does between their City Hall and the county airport. Let’s resolve to never have that here. It would mark the end of a beautiful era. This is just one man’s opinion. Stanching this gush of bumpers to bumpers so far has not occurred completely by accident.
First, we have done a great job housing our workforce. I don’t have numbers or statistics to prove it, but observationally, there are a good deal of affordable housing units relative to free-market units in the village. It feels like we have more locals living in town than Aspen does. Keep it this way.
Second, the biggest mistake Aspen made when considering a balance between commercial development and affordable housing is that they got in the habit of making deals with developers. It is a sucker’s game they never could win. Developers negotiated a cash-in-lieu plan where they signed checks over to The City instead of deeds for land to actually build employee housing on. Now you tell me: which is in shorter supply around here, land or money? You can’t build housing on a mound of cash.
Other deals they made were to reduce developers’ housing obligations in exchange for building worthless “amenities” instead, like a ski museum, which incidentally requires even more employees to operate. For crying out loud, the whole town is a ski museum already, anyway! A few times it appeared they just gave developers a pass because “they are good community members.”
Yes, it can happen here, too. Never forget how we got sucked into this game with Base Village. The developers seduced us with the promise that “all boats float in a rising tide,” and we proceeded to cancel a boat load of affordable housing requirements for nothing but a pile of B.S. We ended up owning The Collective building right there in the middle of it. Wahoo!
Aspen did this crappy deal making so often that now there are not nearly enough affordable housing units to support all the commercial development that was approved. It is completely irrelevant that some claim the affordable housing inventory makes up 30% or more of all units in Aspen. Whatever. It is obviously not enough.
Please don’t get sucked into the quagmire. There really is only one ball you need to keep your eye on. It is traffic. With any new thing you have to make a decision on, you only need to ask one question, “Will this increase traffic?” If it does, just say “no.” Traffic is not necessarily the thing that ruined Aspen, but it is certainly the sign that Aspen is ruined.
Roger Marolt hopes that we learn from Aspen’s mistakes. It was the place he was born, but he hardly recognizes it now. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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