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$1 million impact fee in Aspen-Pitkin County raises overreach concerns

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(The Center Square) – A real estate developer made news when he filed a lawsuit last fall against Pitkin County, Colorado, challenging nearly $1 million in impact fees to alter what he said was less than 200 square feet to his home’s floor area.

At the forefront of the controversy are the rights of individual property owners, the role of government and the application of government regulations.

The issue is contentious and the lawsuit remains ongoing. Jon Peacock, the county manager, and Greg Poschman, chair of the board of county commissioners, would not comment on the matter. The law firm representing Jeffrey Soffer stated confidentiality concerns and declined to comment.

The impact fee that Soffer is challenging goes to fund the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA), specifically an affordable housing program for employees who come to work in Pitkin County.

The county provides an example of how a typical employee housing impact fee is calculated. That example calculated the fee at $488,047.

Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the Reason Foundation, said that impact fees are common and are used to cover the additional costs for government services of adding people and housing to a community. However, Moore said Pitkin County is misusing its employee housing impact fee.

Moore said it was “blatantly obvious” the county was trying to discourage more people from moving there with very high fees “disguised” as impact fees.

“And if somebody is willing to pay it to live there, well, then OK,” Moore said. “This is the wrong way to pay for this housing program. They are trying to discourage growth and disguise it as impact fees.”

Moore said the employee housing program should be paid for with general tax revenues.

Pitkin County is a community that includes larger lots and estate homes and higher-density properties such as a mobile home park. According to Realtor.com, the median home sale price was $2.5 million in 2023.

The county’s per capita income has grown to $198,939 in 2022 from $103,085 in 2013. The 2022 report contains the latest year for which financial data was available.

The population’s property values have increased, so has the county’s revenues, especially in terms of fees and permits. Total government revenues increased to $121.9 million in 2022 from $57.7 million in 2013, a 66% increase when adjusted for inflation.

The total revenue the county collected through impact fees has increased to $2.7 million in 2022, the year before Soffer’s lawsuit, from $603,059 in 2019. The county’s revenue from licenses and permits has also increased from $1.1 million in 2016 to $10.2 million in 2022. The county’s “charges for services” has also jumped to $15 million in 2022 from $4.1 million in 2017. Charges for services are largely tipping fees the county collects for removal of waste to a landfill.

The cost of living in Pitkin County has grown significantly as well.

Soffer is a real estate developer based in Florida. He has a vacation home in Pitkin County. Soffer was married to supermodel Elle Macpherson, and Forbes previously estimated his net worth at $1.7 billion.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, billionaires Stephen Ross and the late Richard DeVos, and Hyatt Hotel heir Thomas Pritzker are among the dozens of people who have reportedly owned property in the county.

The county website warns potential employees interested in living in the area about the high cost of living. It suggests living outside the county in less expensive communities such as Carbondale, 29 miles away, which the county says can be a 90-minute commute during the winter months.

“This information is provided not to discourage you from considering employment with Pitkin County; however, it has been our experience that employees who understand the reality of life here are happier than those who arrive unprepared,” the website states.

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