The Durango Telegraph
The Independent Weekly Line On Durango and Beyond

[Vol. 5, No36, September 7, 2006]

ASPEN – Pitkin County in early July adopted a law capping sizes of new homes at 15,000 square feet. Some homebuilders seem to fear even more restrictive laws could be enacted.

“The general atmosphere is one of fear in terms of eventually reducing house size in the future,” said one real estate broker, Tim Estin, of Mason & Morse. He told The Aspen Timesthat with land prices so high in Pitkin County, real estate buyers probably feel compelled to build houses as large as possible on their property.

Of course, Aspen does cater to the world’s wealthiest 1 to 3 percent of citizens. That probably explains why the average new home in Pitkin County is about 5,000 square feet, compared to the median of about 2,450 square feet nationally. But even that national figure is 250 percent larger than comparable homes built in 1950.

In taking aim at large homes, Pitkin County had several justifications. A larger home requires more construction vehicles, such as dump trucks, which create more damage to roads. Once completed, according to a 1999 study conducted by the county, homes larger than 3,500 square feet generate more demand for services such as cleaning and landscaping than do smaller homes.

And finally, larger homes require more energy to heat and, even in Aspen, cool. “The trend we’re seeing, including the trend in luxury homes, is moving in the opposite direction of that which we need to go,” said Dan Richardson, the global warming coordinator for Aspen.

However, Richardson cautioned that larger does not always mean more polluting. One 11,000-square-foot house surveyed by the town in its global warming program, called Canary Initiative, had fewer total emissions than one that was 8,000 square feet.

Still, the general moralistic bent is expressed well by Mick Ireland, a county commissioner. Aspen “has a late-empire-of-Rome feel to it that’s kind of disturbing,” he told the Times. “Excess, everywhere you look.”