When it comes to Sister City relationships, the one between Queenstown and Aspen, in Colorado, United States, is special. Aspen mayor, Torre, tells TRACEY ROXBURGH despite being separated by more than 21,500 kilometres the two destinations, which reaffirmed their commitment last week, have a lot to learn from each other

It’s easy to assume Queenstown’s the major beneficiary of our sister city relationship with Aspen.

While the Colorado municipality’s residential population’s just 7000, and its township’s about 10sqkm in size with a downtown core about the size of our main walking malls, it has, at times, appeared light years ahead of us.

Confronting many of the issues the Whakatipu is facing, Aspen, to borrow a quote from former Prime Minister, Dame Jacinda Ardern, went hard and early.

In 2016, for example, with just 24 hours’ notice, Aspen City Council approved a year-long ban on commercial development, to give council time to match the resort’s land-use code with residents’ vision for the town.

It’s battled, too, with finding, and housing, its workforce.

A sister act: Pictured before resigning a sister city agreement at Queenstown’s Sherwood on Wednesday are Aspen mayor Torre, centre, with, from left, Southland MP Joseph Mooney, Aspen Chamber of Commerce president Debbie Braun, Destination Queenstown CEO Mat Woods, Queenstown mayor Glyn Lewers, and Queenstown Chamber boss Sharon Fifield / PICTURE: JONNY JAMES

In his first visit to Queenstown, Aspen mayor Torre tells Mountain Scene in the county ‘‘we’re at a worker deficit of a few thousand’’.

‘‘In the city of Aspen, we have more people coming in fulfilling daily jobs than we have living there.’’

On housing, Aspen’s council determined anyone developing a new building had to accommodate about 65% of the workforce it’d generate, while the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust was, in part, inspired by a similar model there.

Property developers contribute millions of dollars to the city’s Employee Housing Fund, and the council builds its own housing developments — about 30% of the workforce is being housed there at present — and establishes private-public partnerships with the market.

They also tax those using their ‘‘second, third and fourth homes’’ for non-resident purposes.

There’s an owner-occupied levy, for those who live in Aspen but want to rent their house out for up to about 120 days a year, and ‘lodging short-term rental’, targeting condominiums traditionally used as short-term visitor accommodation.

In both cases, 5% of the daily rate charged is remitted to the city, which is funnelled into affordable housing and infrastructure needs.

There’s also a short-term rental tax, at 10%, for a second home used primarily for short-term rentals.

‘‘There’s a lot to learn from Aspen — some say we were first in the pool,’’ he says.

‘‘Oftentimes, in my meetings with other communities, they will say ‘let’s just wait, ’cos Aspen’s probably going to do it, and they’ll get sued, and then we’ll learn from their mistakes’.

‘‘For 50 years we’ve had community leaders that have been very protective about the quality of life and the community that we have in Aspen, and that’s really what this whole conversation comes down to.

‘‘We’re not anti-newcomer, we’re not anti-visitor or anything like that, but we want to preserve what makes Aspen so special.’’

And that’s where he believes Aspen can learn a lot from Queenstown.

He and other members of the delegation have been struck by how the resort is managing tourism numbers.

‘‘It’s astounding to me how it feels very intense here, there is a lot of activities … there’s a lot of visitorship here, but you know what?

‘‘It feels great here.

‘‘In the ways that you guys are working with your visitor and tourism base is something we can most definitely learn from.’’

Besties: Queenstown mayor Glyn Lewers, left, and Aspen’s mayor, Torre

In his third and final two-year term, Torre, a teaching tennis pro, says he was fascinated by New Zealand’s response to Covid, and the impact on Queenstown, noting he and former mayor Jim Boult spoke every couple of weeks for the duration.

While Aspen stayed open as much as possible, Queenstown had to self-support while it worked to diversify the economy, ‘‘and that’s something that we are now taking unto ourselves as we go into the future’’.

‘‘Queenstown had to look internally for its community to support itself and I was just fascinated by that.

‘‘There’s a strong feeling in Aspen amongst my council members that serve now, that the stronger that we make and build our community, the stronger our resort economy can be.’’

The city’s also clearly committed to the relationship it’s had with Queenstown since 1992.

‘‘We are almost literally on opposite sides of the world, and yet we share so much in common.

‘‘I think there’s a real affinity from Aspen in that respect, that we could have partners and neighbours that are actually on the other side of the world is just wonderful for us; we feel a global connection here … we have a tremendous amount of respect for Queenstown.’’

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