Affordability the only snag with senior-housing center in Basalt
September 6, 2013
A proposal for a 150-unit assisted-living and senior-housing center in Basalt appears to be one issue away from sailing through the review process.
The only major issue the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission stumbled on Tuesday night was whether the Aspen Valley Foundation is offering enough to earn a waiver of standard affordable-housing requirements.
Under the town's rules, the foundation would be required to provide 39 affordable-housing units. The foundation sought a waiver because it said building that much housing would make the project unaffordable. In the first round of review, the Town Council agreed to a waiver because the project is providing vital senior housing. However, the town directed the developer to come back in the second and final review step with a viable alternative to help with affordability.
The foundation offered Tuesday to waive the entry fee on 12 of 78 "independent living" units in the project. No dollar amounts were discussed, but it was indicated that the waiver would be a substantial amount. The Basalt Planning Commission tried to negotiate additional concessions from the foundation.
"Staff asked for a plan for keeping rents reasonable on these 12 units," said materials given to the Planning Commission.
Foundation representative Richard Shaw, of Design Workshop, said no restrictions could be offered on the amount charged to live in the independent-living units.
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"It's not a rental. It's a contract for life care," Shaw said.
That contract comes with options for services that the tenants select. He said it would be nearly impossible for the proposed Continuing Care and Retirement Community in Basalt to set prices based on what similar facilities elsewhere in Colorado charge, as suggested by the Planning Commission. Building costs and medical care vary substantial in different parts of the state, he said.
Shaw said the "real barrier" to entry into a center of this kind is the fee, so the foundation has removed that barrier on 12 units.
The foundation has spoken with potential operators of the facility from throughout the country, and none would be interested in affiliating with the project if there were restrictions to the prices charged for the 12 units, according to Shaw.
The foundation also offered to build one affordable-housing unit open to use for someone other than a senior.
Planning Commission Chairman Bernie Grauer called the debate over the prices charged at the 12 units "the biggest rub in an otherwise appealing proposal." If the long-term affordability of the 12 units could be assured, Grauer said he could be "a supporter."
As it stands, he said, there's no guarantee that the units will remain accessible for people of limited means.
"You can get in for free, but you can't afford to stay there," Grauer said.
Reaction to the affordability issue was mixed among other Planning Commission members. Board member Dylan Johns said he felt the town already was compromising on the issue.
"I think you're getting a pretty good affordable-housing credit from us already," Johns said.
But board member Tracy Bennett said she could accept the project as proposed. It will provide an important "economic shot in the arm" for the town, she said.
"This works for me," Bennett said. "I don't need anything extra."
The Planning Commission didn't resolve the issue or take a vote. It is scheduled to make an advisory vote Sept. 17 and forward the issue to the Basalt Town Council for final review.
If the project is approved, it will be built in two phases. The first phase would feature 52 independent-living units, 12 cottages, 20 assisted-living units, 12 skilled-nursing units, the community-housing unit, dining and exercise facilities, a day care facility and parks.