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ISSUE #121: FlamboyANT Madness  2/11/16

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it." 

-- Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle


With the goal of getting fewer people to drive and park their cars in Aspen, the city of Aspen will be raising parking rates 50% at meters in the 16 square blocks of the downtown core as a 3-month experiment in June, July and August.  The brain trust at the city parking department estimates that 60-70% of the downtown parking spaces are currently being used by working locals who simply want to be close to their offices or shops.  Perhaps this hefty hike will move some of them to the bus or to the city's parking garage.  It will be interesting to see.  I envision a windfall for the parking department and, without viable AND ATTRACTIVE parking alternatives, very little change in behavior.

Then, missing the point entirely and flying directly in the face of one of council's top 10 goals for the year (to devise some concrete plans to ease traffic and also make it easier to find parking spots downtown), our car-averse mayor additionally suggested outlawing vehicles on Galena Street and the block of East Cooper between Paradise Bakery and Boogies in hopes of making town more "pedestrian friendly."  Somehow, this genius seems to think that by removing 80-100 parking spaces and expanding our pedestrian malls will make parking easier downtown.  Go figure.  But that's what we're up against, folks!  Thankfully, his ridiculous suggestion was not given much attention.

Aspen Daily News columnist Paul Menter points out that the parking enterprise fund generated revenue equal to about 170% of its annual operating costs over the past three years - on average just under $1.5 million per year more than it spends on operations.  As of November 2015, the parking fund balance was nearly $3.9 million, nearly twice its annual operating budget and that's AFTER kicking in $5.7 million toward the Rio Grande Plaza capital improvement project.  (Read his column HERE.)  With those kinds of dollars, one would hope that the city could come up with a "fast, frequent and free dedicated park and ride service from either a new lot at the airport or the existing Brush Creek park and ride, or both."  Without viable new solutions, the problem will only fester. 


In yet another car-averse move, our friends at the Open Space and Trails board, along with We-Cycle and the powerful bike lobby have effectively convinced council to temporarily NARROW the Castle Creek Bridge by one foot in each direction from 12' to 11' in an effort to provide a wider designated "multi-use lane" for bicyclists across Aspen's primary choke point this summer.  But let's face it, the primary, unspoken rationale is to deliberately congest the primary entrance to Aspen as a further deterrent to having cars in town.  The bikers and pedestrians already have a dedicated egress along West Hopkins that connects with a nice path across the Marolt property.  They just need to be required to use it!!  Even with a widened path crammed onto the already narrow bridge, bikers will still use the traffic lane.  It's just what they do.  Pedestrians and those with strollers in the dedicated lane will further add to the problem.  Colorado 82 is a state highway.  It is entirely possible to restrict bike and pedestrian access.  To do just the opposite is a nightmare waiting to happen!  It is one thing to encourage bike riding, but to deliberately choke the main artery in and out of town for the sake of a couple hundred vocal bicyclists has ramifications FAR BEYOND the canary initiative or whatever is truly driving this, no pun intended.  Besides, if the experiment is a success (and assuming no one dies), just imagine the narrower traffic lanes on the bridge when 2-3 feet of snow are piled up separating the lanes. 

The "down the road" next step to this folly is likely to make Hallam Street into a West Hopkins-like bike corridor.  You see, the biking crowd (that already has permission not to stop at stop signs in Aspen) doesn't want to have to cross Main Street to get to the Music Tent or Institute.  Let's just restrict another Aspen street and change all the driving patterns in the West End!  Unintended consequence:  the traffic that leaves town by way of weaving through the West End will be back out on Main Street, further adding to the congestion.

Council, in its hatred of cars and in its inimitable fashion, has agreed to this dangerous nonsense for the summer of 2016, the very summer when major commercial construction in Aspen will approach levels not seen in several generations:  a new city hall, Pitkin County building expansion, a new hotel at the Sky Hotel location, a new Aspen Club, a new building on Hopkins where the Aspen Daily News building now stands. Brace yourselves!!

Biking enthusiast and rational thinker Mike Maple stated, "While improving connections for other modes of travel is a worthy objective, the proposed Castle Creek Bridge & Hallam Street project will violate the Hippocratic concept, 'first do no harm.'  The proposed Cemetery Lane, Castle Creek Bridge/Hallam Street corridor improvements should be substantially abandoned and tax payer funds should be focused on improving the pedestrian/bicyclist connection from Cemetery Lane/west of the roundabout under Highway 82 to the Marolt Bridge and the Hopkins Avenue bike way. The City, with the input of Pitkin County, RFTA and CDOT, should focus on improving, not aggravating, vehicular access to and from Aspen."  Exactly.  But don't hold your breath - even though you'll want to, given the inevitable horrendous traffic jam emissions in our future.


Chagrined, confused and frequently emotional at the council table, mayor Skadron recently addressed the ACRA board and asked members to embark on a letter-writing campaign to push back against dissenting "negative" voices in the community.  In his belief bubble, things in Aspen have "never been uglier."  Really?!  Sure, there is political dissent in Aspen.  We have seen a significant spike in development and there is a huge airport project on the horizon.  Some resent the changes necessary to keep Aspen competitive in the 21st century.  Some still want to bring back the Quiet Years.  There has ALWAYS been political dissent here!  But to utilize one's elected position to attempt to silence those who disagree is, frankly, anti-American.  What an embarrassment.  The good news is that the business leaders on the ACRA board gently reminded our sensitive mayor that "the very foundation of this town is the resort and community working together."  Ya think?! 


In order to build or expand a home in Aspen, you're all aware that the city has long exacted a pound of flesh on a per square footage basis for the privilege.  This punitive charge is ostensibly to mitigate for "employees generated" by your new larger space, and no, it does not mean the employees whose jobs were created in the actual construction of said premises.  With a larger house, surely you need more maids, nail technicians and lawn mowers so you must "mitigate" financially for housing them.  (Never mind the 1.5% Real Estate Transfer Tax -- RETT -- you paid when you purchased  your property, two-thirds of which went toward the subsidized housing fund.)  A long-used mitigation tool for new construction and additions was "cash-in-lieu," a per square foot payment that went toward subsidized housing.  Always controversial, the program recently came under greater scrutiny.

About 2 years ago, in an effort to more aggressively punish those who wish to develop or redevelop residential properties, city staff proposed TRIPLING the cash-in-lieu payment for subsidized housing mitigation, from $78 per square foot to $230.  Enough citizens protested this outrageous increase that the city agreed to hire outside consultants to determine the "real" cost of employee generation for residential housing on a square footage basis.  The outside consultants came back with mitigation numbers FAR below what the city had been charging for 20 years.  Instead of reducing the mitigation fee to represent reality, the city decided to do the following:

They reduced the cash-in-lieu per square foot  to about $40, representing reality, however, they decided that cash-in-lieu payments would only be available for a small addition or small house, about 1300 square feet.  Anything bigger than that must use other means of subsidized housing mitigation or go to Council and ask for a hardship exemption requesting that cash-in-lieu be paid.  The only acceptable alternate means of mitigation now are:

1-Build a subsidized housing unit on your site, deed restrict it, and SELL it to a subsidized housing-approved employee.

2-Buy a free market unit in town and "buy it down" to subsidized housing category level.

3-Buy a "certificate" from local developer Peter Fornell for a unit in a housing complex he has built in town in a special agreement with the city.  (All his certificates for existing inventory are now gone.)

So, for anyone building a new house or expanding more than about 1300 square feet, you either have to buy a unit down in the city, build a subsidized unit on your land and sell it, petition council for a waiver to be able to pay cash-in-lieu, or somehow buy one of Fornell's certificates wherever they are and at whatever price they are currently trading.

With regard to the special deal that Fornell struck with the city to build housing and sell certificates on the open market to address this whole "mitigation" scenario, the city says it is up to the free market to create more certificates, and whatever they are worth will reflect the cost of housing mitigation.  Essentially, the city is imposing an impact fee on any new residential construction, but the cost of that fee is essentially market driven by Peter Fornell's certificate pricing or that of anyone else who does it.  Is this alright with you?


I have long written about the beleaguered Centennial subsidized housing project and its capital reserves (or, better put, lack thereof) woes.  To briefly recap, the property managers of Centennial's 148 rental units (built at the same time as the owned units), have long warned the homeowners to invest in preventative maintenance on the 1980s era buildings.  But they didn't.  As a result, there has been extensive damage from water saturation to major structural beams and load-bearing studs and walls.  It's a legitimate mess.  But there are responsibilities of home ownership.  For many years, the HOA at Centennial never even collected monies for its reserve account.  Today, estimates for the fix range from $3.5 to $10 million.  But the question is, who pays?

The Red Ant says, it's obvious.  Unfortunate, but obvious.  The owners.  In the real world, HOA dues are collected, and when these aren't enough to cover unexpected or even planned maintenance, owners are assessed.  In subsidized housing, it should be no different.  (Any fool who has purchased a Centennial unit in recent years is especially responsible for such costs; this is hardly a new problem!  I just can't believe that lenders enabled such foolery.)  Even assistant city manager aptly-named Barry Crook told the Daily News in 2013 that "he was not wavering in his stance that it is not the government's responsibility to pay for repairs to the ownership units."

But how the times have changed!  Faced with a lawsuit (that has questionable standing) from the Centennial owners, the city seems to be backing down.  The latest is that the city is looking at putting $16 million of public money into the capital reserve accounts of local subsidized housing HOA's.  Given that the current system does not reward the owner for taking care of maintenance while it does when a kitchen or bath is upgraded, most HOAs defer their maintenance.  A 2012 HOA reserve study showed that on average, capital reserve cash on hand at APCHA's HOAs were at 22% of where they should be.  

How the "public" gets reimbursed for this nanny action is anyone's guess.  (My guess is that it's just more free money thrown at a broken system.) There are responsibilities of home ownership.  We are clearly selling units to people who do not understand this, and even if they do, choose not to fulfill this responsibility.  The problem is once again with the oversight and control of this valuable public inventory.  Ought we rethink the "sale" of subsidized properties?  Wouldn't $16 million be better spent on buying back owned units and renting these out?  Obviously, the rents would include monies for capital reserves.

And, with 1600 owned units in our APCHA subsidized housing inventory, just think of the precedent this public cash infusion sets.


Just a thought on subsidized housing and, as you know, I've had many over the years:  Why on earth can't legitimate businesses and non-profits participate in the housing lottery?  Let's face it, they'd be FAR BETTER stewards of our housing inventory than Johnny Random who doesn't pay his HOA dues and trashes his unit.  Imagine our friends who own Peach's Café, for example.  They have constant employee turnover.  Imagine if they were able to buy an APCHA unit to rent to their own employees.  Sure, housing would be tied to employment, but then they'd likely have a lot more consistency with employees who have an incentive to work there for the whole season.  It's scalable.  My guess is that Peach's would pay their HOA dues regularly and on time.  And, because their own employees inhabit the unit, there is built-in oversight on the unit being properly cared for.  To me, it's ridiculously obvious.  And furthermore, you and I would know that at least one subsidized housing unit would be housing actual employees!!

For too long, there has been a ridiculous aversion to housing being tied to employment.  "What if someone loses their job?  Then they'd lose their housing," the subsidized locals whine.  Exactly.  All the more reason not to lose your job, I say.  It's just how the world works.  The mortgage lenders don't care if you lose your job, break your leg or crash your car.  They care about one thing, your payment.  Again, it's just the way the world works.  Why should subsidized housing in Aspen be any different?


Tis the season.  HERE is the link for your City of Aspen food tax refund of $50.  Aspen residents who have lived within the city limits for the entire year of 2015 and are registered voters are eligible.  (And if you're 65 or older, you get and additional $50 PLUS a $50 senior citizen allowance!!  That's $150!) $50 is $50 so get yours.  Deadline is 5p on April 15.  And if you don't need it, The Red Ant is always open to donations to offset costs!! (PO Box 4662, Aspen, CO  81612)

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