Six Top of the Rockies awards and a new window into short-term rentals
A retrospective roundup of AJ’s original stories from SPJ as we map every STR in Aspen and PitCo
Editor’s note: This is a special edition of The Roundup being sent to all Aspen Journalism contacts to share news of a new honor earned by the organization.
This week at Aspen Journalism, we’re thrilled to report that six of our entries in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest received awards. Putting together our announcement post, linked below, was a great trip down memory lane, revisiting the stories and reflecting on all that went into each of them. It’s a batch with a depth and breadth I’m proud of, ranging from a piece profiling Rifle-based freelance housekeeping workers to a campaign finance breakdown of the race between Lauren Boebert and Adam Frisch in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Check the post to see which of AJ’s stories from last year the judges from SPJ chapters in Chicago and Ohio chose as among the best journalism in a four-state region.
New stories on our plate and the pressing work at hand include a months-in-the-making effort — first published over the weekend — taking stock of new short-term rental (STR) regulations in the city of Aspen and Pitkin County. Building a map showing where each licensed STR in the city and county is located has long been a goal and now, more than six months since the rollout of new STR permit programs in both jurisdictions, and with the capabilities of Data Editor Laurine Lassalle, we were able to do just that. Via records requests, Lassalle obtained information about each permitted STR including its address, licensee and management contact and laid that into a data visualization showing each property’s location on a map.
The mapping tool is accompanied by her story analyzing what we learned from all that permit data. It’s clear that the new permitting regimes have put some significant brakes on the local short-term rental industry, with residential-neighborhood caps in the city and a freezing of the market in Pitkin County. In the city, we found that outside the downtown core where there are no limits, most neighborhoods have already hit their maximum STR quotas and there is now a waitlist over 50 deep. In Pitkin County, multimillion-dollar homes must pay hefty fees for a maximum of 120 rental nights a year, and properties that do not have a documented rental history prior to June of 2022 cannot get a permit. The permit review process is also turning up irregularities such as additions built or special events held without a permit. There is a ton to unpack in this new STR landscape; we hope our analysis contributes to conversation, documenting where things are at, helping us see where they may be going and leading to more great reporting.
Not to be outdone, Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett notched another statehouse scoop with Tuesday’s publication of her piece about the gutting of a bill intended to reduce regulatory hurdles for stream restoration projects that mimic beaver activity, which reconnect impaired streams with their floodplain and revitalize wetlands. While the environmental benefit is clear, these projects can cause “heartburn,” in the words of one source, among the state’s water users over concern that they will lead to more evaporation and harm water availability. As Sackett has reported time and again, when consumptive use and environmental interests collide, at least in the halls of power for Colorado’s water systems, one side has the clear advantage. That trend appears to have come into play here.
Thank you again for reading, and supporting, our nonprofit, investigative newsroom, making this work possible and keeping reporters on the beat.
– Curtis Wackerle
Editor and executive director
Environment, data and social justice stories recognized in regional contest
By Aspen Journalism Staff | May 3, 2023
We are grateful for the support from our community and pleased to see the work we produce honored with these awards.
Projects that mimic beaver activity not addressed in amended version
By Heather Sackett | May 3, 2023
After amendments removed language referring to these projects, the bill now only includes minor stream-restoration activities such as bank stabilization or restructuring a channel to recover from wildfire or flood impacts.
The city of Aspen and Pitkin County have issued about 900 STR permits since last fall
By Laurine Lassalle | April 29, 2023
Since new permits became available in September and October, Aspen has issued 790 as of April 3 and 111 licenses were issued in unincorporated Pitkin County as of April 20, for a total of 901 licensed STRs between the jurisdictions. That appears to be well below the total number of properties involved in short-term vacation renting prior to the new permit regulations, when neither jurisdiction had strict limits on STR proliferation.
Snowpack keeps dropping. Better air quality in Aspen.
By Laurine Lassalle | May 3, 2023
• The Fork ran at 78.9% of average on April 30 below Maroon Creek and at 102.2% of average at Emma.
• Lake Powell’s elevation reaches the target elevation of 3,525 feet on April 30.
• Air quality in Aspen has improved since last week.
By Laurine Lassalle | April 26, 2023
Aspen Journalism is compiling real-time streamflow information. Users can hover on each graph to get the most current streamflow information for the selected station.
There are always stories that need a journalist to pursue them. These Aspen Journalism investigative stories are published for you, the community, and our collaborators as a public service, thanks to the generosity of our readers and funders.