Basalt council ponders how to honor $500,000 housing pledge | AspenTimes.com

Basalt council ponders how to honor $500,000 housing pledge

Some members of the Basalt Town Council are uncertain how the town can honor a prior commitment to chip in $500,000 for 50 affordable-housing apartments at Willits Town Center.

The council delayed a decision Tuesday night on making payments of $250,000 this year and in 2017 to Mariner Real Estate Management, the developer of Willits. The council in office in 2014 approved an ordinance that provided $500,000 to bridge a gap the development firm said it had in its funding. The council agreed to the payment, with conditions, to help speed the construction of the affordable-housing units.

Since then, three council seats have turned over.

The town's financial consultant, Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers, wrote in an Oct. 17 memo that the developer had met the requirements from the 2014 deal.

“To me it doesn’t seem exactly like a subsidy to a developer. It’s a subsidy for affordable housing.”

— Councilman Auden Schendler

A town staff memo advised the council to divide the payments into $250,000 this year and next. Councilman Bernie Grauer said he couldn't make that commitment until the board dives further into its budget process.

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"I strongly suspect we would like to see those payments extended over four or five years," Grauer said.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said paying the $500,000 over the remainder of this year and next year would squeeze the rest of the town's operating budget. Schwoerer, who was elected this year, said the council majority shouldn't have agreed to the deal in 2014.

"I think I've been really clear how upsetting I find subsidies for developers," she said.

That said, the council made the commitment, Schwoerer added. She favored waiting to determine a payment plan after the council settles the 2017 budget.

Councilman Auden Schendler noted the deal was something the board inherited and had an obligation to pay.

"I'm going to be advocating to make the payment and move on," he said.

Schendler noted that the $500,000 is helping the community achieve a goal of providing affordable housing.

"To me it doesn't seem exactly like a subsidy to a developer," he said. "It's a subsidy for affordable housing."

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum agreed that a commitment was made that must be met. He also agreed that a decision on how to make it would be best after the council holds budget sessions.

The council is scheduled to dive into its budget Nov. 9. The $500,000 commitment to affordable housing at Willits will be reviewed Nov. 15.

The 50 apartments include 26 one-bedroom units, 22 two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units. They will be available for occupancy "as early as March 1," according to Tim Belinski, Mariner's local representative. The rents will follow Basalt's affordable-housing guidelines at $1,489 for the one bedrooms, $1,580 for the two bedrooms and $1,666 for the three bedrooms.

It hasn't been determined yet how tenants will be selected, but a lottery system appears likely.

"There's obviously a lot of demand," Belinski said.

A second phase of the project will feature 27 condominiums that will be sold under affordable housing guidelines. The Roaring Fork School District has contracted to buy 17 of those condos, which are slated to be completed in summer 2017.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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