ASPEN - The vast majority of about 35 Burlingame homeowners indicated at a Wednesday night meeting that they don't want their affordable-housing development to go to the dogs - literally.
Aspen city officials are pursuing a process that would pave the way for residents of the soon-to-be-built Burlingame Ranch Phase II development to keep a dog in their units, should they desire one. This has raised numerous concerns among residents in the 84 units and seven single-family homes of Burlingame I, ranging from the potentially vast amounts of poop that would fill their yards to the unwanted noises associated with dozens of barking dogs.
Mayor Mick Ireland attended the meeting and said Thursday that some of the comments were pointed toward him, even though he doesn't have a strong position on the matter.
"I told them that I don't have a dog in the fight, but no one laughed," he said.
Jokes aside, Ireland said he believes the best way to settle the controversy would be to let residents of both developments decide the issue a few years from now as a single voting group rather than having members of separate homeowners' associations vote on whether to allow dogs within Phase I or Phase II.
"They'll have to get together as a group and try to persuade each other what the best thing to do is," Ireland said. "Any solution is going to be better than anything that I could come up with because it will be their solution.
"As they say in law, 'Better to settle than to litigate.' Because at least you, the settlers, control the decision."
This spring, the city plans to begin construction on the first section of Burlingame II, which involves 48 units of what is planned as a 167-unit development. The city's policy is to tackle the construction in sections based on demand.
Burlingame II has no buyers yet. The city is in the midst of a pre-sales initiative in which 50 people have paid $500 for reservations on various types of units, Assistant City Manager R. Barry Crook said. All of them are pre-qualified for mortgages from financial institutions.
The city didn't instigate changes to longtime agreements that prevent Burlingame-area homeowners from having dogs because it wanted a marketing tool to generate more interest in Burlingame II, both Ireland and Crook said.
"It came about because in almost every forum where we go to talk about affordable housing, usually multiple people stand up and say that not enough of the affordable-housing units allow dogs," Crook said. "They say, 'I can't find a unit and keep my dog, and you're making me choose between one or the other, and I will choose my dog. You need to have more (dog-friendly) units available.'"
"This is not driven by sales," Ireland said. "There is interest in (Burlingame II) from people who would like to have a dog and undoubtedly from people who expressed an interest thinking that there wouldn't be dogs."
If Ireland's suggested method of settling the matter is chosen, then Burlingame II units will start to sell with the understanding that owners might or might not get to have dogs.
Crook said that in the near future, he will ask the City Council, of which Ireland is a voting member, to reaffirm whether it wants to continue to pursue changes to the agreements banning dogs. Such changes could result in homeowners gaining the right to keep a single dog at Burlingame I or II or both.
Dogs are not allowed at Burlingame I, nor would they be allowed at Burlingame II because of the current stipulation in the pre-annexation agreement between the city and owners of a ranch that borders Burlingame. The Bar/X no longer is a working ranch, and the city is working with the homeowners' association representing 13 single-family homes on that property to lift the restriction, which was set before Burlingame I opened in 2007.
Once that is done, the two homeowners' associations that represent Burlingame I would be allowed to vote on changes to their regulations that ban dogs. Approval would require a two-thirds vote of the 91 members. One of the homeowners' associations plans to send out a survey soon to gauge member feelings about potential dog ownership within the development. A draft of the survey, which was written with assistance from city staffers, is on the homeowners' association's member website.
Burlingame unit owner Bubba Scott said he attended Wednesday's informational meeting but left not long after it started because he was upset. He believes City Council members have been misled into thinking that most Burlingame I residents want the dog restrictions lifted.
Far from it, said Scott, who conducted a random survey of 20 people that he said showed that 66 percent of residents are against lifting the dog restriction.
"All we need to continue the dog ban are 31 votes," Scott said. "I could get 31 votes anytime. They need 60-something votes to overturn the rules."
He said homeowners are not only concerned about dogs running amok on the properties and leaving waste in people's yards, but they also worry that the presence of so many dogs will affect nearby wildlife and open space.
Scott said the upcoming survey was one of the discussion points at the meeting.
"They worded the survey as if there are going to be dogs," he said. "It's totally political. This is very frustrating. The city is just forcing something through."
Crook added that it's virtually impossible to do any survey without somebody alleging that the questions are skewed.
He added that strict regulations for Burlingame II or Burlingame I could be written - such as hefty fines for a dog owner if it's proven that his pet pooped on a neighbor's property - to ensure that canines don't have a negative impact on the area.