Mayor Mick Ireland and the Aspen City Council may have inadvertently blundered to a policy that will temporarily restore economic growth to the valley by passing an ordinance to deny construction of penthouse apartments in Aspen’s core. Their action has forced owners of these buildings to accelerate their plans for development before the ordinance takes effect. The city was being deluged with applications for permits to rebuild or tear down existing buildings. The owners know that they will lose if they do not move quickly.
The ordnance will spur massive construction activity although little dirt will move for months because every application must be vetted by a thousand commissions. Construction will eventually boom. Within two years the entire core will be one big construction site. Hundreds if not thousands of workers who have been laid off since 2009 will again have work. Highway 82 will again be crowded in the morning by trucks carrying carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other workers to Aspen. Highway 82 will also team again with trucks carrying cement, steel and other building materials to the city. It will be like old times for a while.
Those of us that live down valley will benefit as well. The surge in construction in Aspen will provide an economic stimulus which will boost property values here. The increased demand for skilled and semiskilled workers in Aspen will raise incomes — some of which will go into properties in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood, Silt and Rifle.
We all can thank Mayor Ireland for this economy benefit. The council forced the hand of those owning properly in the core by threatening their property rights — rights that were created by an earlier council which advanced the idea of infill building. It is now use it or lose it. Property owners will use their rights, even if they eventually lose money or even are forced into foreclosure.
Unfortunately, there is a big down side to this good news. The construction boom will be spurred by government fiat, not economic circumstances. New stores and new penthouse apartments will be built even though others remain for sale. Landlords will demand higher rent for new space, but will likely find few takers. More and more buildings could fall into foreclosure. The central core will become more of a ghost town as the new contraction is finished. Within five years downtown could take on the appearance of many of the empty malls that dot America. Should that occur, Aspen could lose its cache with visitors. Property values up and down the valley could again plummet.
Ironically, this is the story of Aspen. It is either boom or bust. Mayor Ireland has inadvertently kindled another boom which must lead to an even greater bust. History repeats.