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Aspen City Council approves emergency ordinance pausing vacation rental permits, residential development

As of Wednesday evening, the city stopped accepting new land use applications or building permit applications pertaining to residential development.

ASPEN, Colo — Aspen City Council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance to impose a temporary moratorium on new vacation rental permits until Sept. 30, 2022, at a special meeting that ran late into Wednesday night.

The ordinance, initially supported at the council’s Tuesday meeting, also places a pause on new permits for residential development through Sept. 30. As of Wednesday evening, the city stopped accepting new land use applications or building permit applications pertaining to residential development, according to Community Development Director Phillip Supino.

> Video above: Some mountain communities offering homeowners money to switch from short-term to long-term rentals.

Wednesday’s special meeting began at 7 p.m. and after two-and-a-half hours of public comment — which was not required, but Mayor Torre allowed it due to the large number of attendees — the council took an opportunity to respond before the vote.

Councilmember Rachel Richards said that while she doesn’t believe the moratorium will lead to the creation of more affordable housing, the community is seeing large impacts due to the boom in the STR market, including over-tourism and a need for public transportation between all corners of Aspen — situations that warrant an emergency.

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Councilmember Ward Hauenstein added that the city is asking for a pause so they may take an opportunity to look more closely at the housing crisis. He assured the public that there will be more opportunity in the near future for them to have a voice.

Hauenstein also asked the council to amend the ordinance to allow an extra week to apply for STR permits, a request that found no support from other members of council.

Torre sought to assure the public that permits that have already been issued or that are in the queue for approval will remain intact. The city is currently monitoring $750 million worth of permits, he said.

“In the city of Aspen, [only] 30% of our free-market housing is lived in,” he said. “The reason we are taking a pause on accepting residential applications is so that we can amend the code to better align it with the (Aspen Area Community Plan).”

According to the ordinance language, recent STR activity has had a negative impact on the community and environment, and does not align with the goals outlined in the AACP.

“This is not going to last,” Torre said. “We’re going to get out of this as soon as we can.”

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At Tuesday’s regular city council meeting, about a dozen residents provided comments on STRs and a separate ordinance to amend the city’s land use code to pave the way for future regulation. They also responded to the emergency ordinance, although it did not require a public hearing. Torre asked residents to save their comments until the appropriate time.

Many Aspenites said the process to regulate STRs felt rushed, and vacation rental accountant Elizabeth Selzer said she’s feeling the pressure.

“Those of us in the industry have felt like this has been rushed and pushed,” she said. “It wasn’t until Friday night, Dec. 3, that this agenda was posted and then I could read everything in full. And so that feels like, again, it’s rushing, rushing, rushing.”

Selzer requested due diligence and conversations with stakeholders in the STR industry before passing additional mandates and encouraged the city to make an effort to better understand the market.

Representatives from Expedia Group, the parent company of Vrbo.com and other travel brands, also came forward on Wednesday to ask council to include them and other industry groups in conversations going forward.

“Please consider us and your local short-term rental operators as a resource as you continue your work to address concerns with short-term rentals,” Regional Government Affairs Manager Ashley Hodgini wrote in a letter to Torre and the council. “We are eager to bring our experience to bear and are committed to maintaining trust and quality of life in the communities we serve.”

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In a presentation Wednesday, Supino included a public outreach and stakeholder engagement plan with staff’s recommendation to pass the ordinance. The council’s meeting room in the armory building on South Galena Street — the former City Hall — was full of residents and community members, and about 75 people were listening on WebEx.

Among those who spoke were Selzer and John Ward, who serves on the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board with Richards and Councilmember Skippy Mesirow. Ward began by saying a moratorium on STRs and new construction is not the way to solve the local housing problem. Other members of the public urged the city not to rush, and to engage the public in conversations.

Under the emergency ordinance, all current 2021 STR permits will remain valid throughout the extended period in 2022. However, no new 2021 or 2022 permits will be issued until Sept. 30 of next year. Similarly, all land use applications and building permit applications that were submitted by Wednesday will be processed and carried into 2022. Construction will be paused for six months.

On Wednesday, 182 applicants submitted requests for STR permits before 4 p.m., Supino said, and 81 are awaiting response. Supino did not have data on how many residential building permit or land use applications were submitted Wednesday.

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