Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Preservationist Sounds Aspen Vacation Home Alarm

Aspen's big, empty, always-on vacation homes are gassing the planet with more carbon dioxide per home than homes that are always occupied.

by Broderick Perkins
© 2008 DeadlineNews.Com

Deadline Newsroom - In a growing number of areas in the tiny, historic town of Aspen, CO it feels a lot like an empty movie set. The lights are on, but in many cases, well, nobody's home.

That's not just a cheap shot, but what local Joanne Ditmer would consider fair criticism of county planners who've allowed parts of Aspen to resemble a ghost town most of the year.

Of the nearly 6,000 homes in and around Aspen, more than half of them are luxury vacation McMansions occupied less than three months out of the year, typically during high snow season.

Ditmer is a preservationist awarded by Colorado Preservation Inc. as a pioneer in saving historic buildings.

Also an environmental and urban issues columnist for the Denver Post since 1962, Ditmer says, while the empty vacation retreats certainly threaten the fabric of Aspen's historic, small-town way of life, there's a more global problem to consider.

Aspen's Sopris Foundation says one sprawling vacation home emits more than four times the level of carbon dioxide per day from a full-time home. The vacation homes, says the foundation, are responsible for more than 60 percent Aspen's total residential carbon footprint.

That's because, in many of the newer, often-vacant luxury crash pads, not only are the lights really on around the clock when nobody's home, the homes also come with heated driveways and roofs to melt the snow, heated swimming pools, heated towel rods and heated hot tubs --- not to mention the heated expanse of square footage.

Aspen's vacation homes are a prime example of the kind of residential real estate over-indulgence recently described in Daniel McGinn's "House Lust: America's Obsession With Our Homes" (Random House, $24.95).

Among them is the nation's most expensive, perhaps most infamous residential listing, Saudi Arabia Prince Bandar's 56,000 square foot, 96 acre estate, currently listed for a cool $135 million.

Part-time Aspen residents also include: Victoria Beckham ("Posh Spice"), Kevin Costner, Felicity Huffman and Jack Nicholson.

Granted, most of the homes are a mere 10,000 square feet or less, but there's more -- the Sopris Foundation says the county's master plan is only 40 percent built out.

With a remaining 60 percent yet to come in the urban core, Aspen may be just getting started as a more than mile-high vacation home playground for the rich and famous.

"With 60 percent more growth, would anything be left of Aspen, and the Roaring Fork Valley, that is unique and splendid?" laments a saddened Ditmer in a recent column.

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© 2008 DeadlineNews.Com

Broderick Perkins, an award-winning consumer journalist of 30 years, is publisher and executive editor of San Jose, CA-based DeadlineNews.Com, a real estate news and consulting service, and the new Deadline Newsroom, DeadlineNews.Com's new backshop. In both cases, it's where all the news really hits home.

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