Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No More Monster Homes in Aspen? ; Officials Catch Flak - Even from Folks Who Aren't Rich and Famous - for Growth-Control Tactic

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No More Monster Homes in Aspen? ; Officials Catch Flak - Even from Folks Who Aren't Rich and Famous - for Growth-Control Tactic

Article excerpt

It's the quintessential ski-resort town, virtually synonymous with a life of luxury, even excess.

Among the snow-dusted stands of evergreen, timber-and-glass mansions routinely exceed 9,000 square feet - one colossal residence even tops 50,000 square feet. Actors Michael Douglas and Don Johnson live in Aspen. And the average home price runs about $2 million.

So when county officials recently passed a measure banning the construction of homes larger than 3,500 square feet - a mere cottage by Aspen's standards - many residents were infuriated.

But surprisingly, a healthy part of the outcry has come from the people the law was intended to help - low- and middle-income workers who often have to live miles away. Never mind affordable housing, many say, the ban - which is also aimed at containing growth - could hurt business.

It's a parable of the persuasive power of the golden economy. And with other mountain resorts - from Jackson, Wyo., to Sun Valley, Idaho - grappling with the same issues, it hints at the difficulties that may lie ahead as local governments try to impose solutions on a skeptical populace.

According to a recent county study, residential construction here has grown at the blistering pace of 7 percent annually since 1990. The same study found that 10 workers are needed to construct every large home here; and once built, another four to five workers are needed to maintain it - from gardeners to pool cleaners.

"There's no place for them to live," says Mick Ireland, Pitkin County commissioner. In fact, 65 percent of local employees can't afford to live here. Some commute as far as 100 miles daily - meaning more traffic and higher maintenance costs on county roads.

Construction workers alone account for some 2,000 daily trips into Aspen. On highway 82, pickup trucks routinely jockey for space between Range Rovers and Ford Expeditions.

It's the county, not homebuilders, that bears the cost of growth, Mr. Ireland says. "Just because people from all over the world want a home here, it doesn't mean I have to pay for it."

But on the town's tree-lined streets, amid Fendi and Chanel boutiques, locals are grumbling about the heavy-handedness of county officials - and worrying about a downturn in the local economy. …

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