Burlingame bond is dead for now
August 13, 2008
ASPEN ” Voters will not be asked this fall to approve a $50 million bond to finish construction of affordable housing at Burlingame Ranch.
Instead, it’s likely voters will be asked up to four different ballot questions that all relate to affordable housing. The deadline to place questions on the November ballot is Sept. 5.
The Aspen City Council on Tuesday directed staff to draft ballot language that would ask voters an advisory question that supports increasing the total units at Burlingame from 236 to 300.
Another question would ask voters to renew the 0.45 percent housing/day-care tax, which feeds money to area day-care providers, as well as to the housing fund.
The third question would ask voters to authorize $16 million in bonds to reimburse the housing fund for land purchases made in 2007, as well as to extend the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which is the largest funding mechanism for affordable housing and expires in 2024.
A fourth question would be advisory, asking voters to give elected leaders direction on whether they should proceed with future construction of Burlingame that’s consistent with recent recommendations of a citizen budget task force; an outside audit concerning the city’s performance as a developer and a construction experts group that is currently studying the best way to build additional units.
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Up until recently, the council was pushing the bond question so there would be no delays in finishing phases two and three at Burlingame. Currently, there are 84 multifamily units and one single-family house built at the development, on the outskirts of town.
Once it was realized that the construction experts group’s recommendations would not be ready, nor would a plan be place to logically present to voters on the design and construction methods of more units, the bond question was decided to be premature.
“It is possible for staff to prepare detailed cost estimates and an associated bond for the original Burlingame program that was previously presented to the community,” wrote City Manager Steve Barwick in a memo to the council. “However, we do not expect to be able to provide this level of detail for the higher density option currently being created by the construction experts group.”
Even though they have approval for up to 330 units at Burlingame, council members agreed that voters should be asked to increase the density because they signed off on 236 units in 2005. The debate during that election centered around the negative effects of too much density and urban sprawl.
Council members agreed that the density shouldn’t be increased without the blessing of the current Burlingame homeowners before the question is put on the ballot.
Each homeowner at Burlingame will be able to vote on whether more density should occur in their neighborhood. The city of Aspen also has voting rights since it owns 60 percent of the units (as they haven’t been built and therefore haven’t been sold).
It will require a two-thirds majority vote from all of the owners in order to change the planned unit development (PUD) approval placed on the property, said city attorney John Worcester.
Tuesday’s discussion centered around how many units can be built at Burlingame, which was spurred by Aspen citizen Marilyn Marks’ suggestion to hold off on asking for up to 300 units and instead, further study how the property can be maximized for affordable housing, including building on designated open space.
“I’m asking to push the envelope,” Marks said, adding the Burlingame site may be the last best chance to build as much affordable housing as possible to address the critical need of the workforce.
The council rejected the idea, arguing that it took several years of negotiations with the original land owners, the Zoline family, to agree on 330 units and preserve hundreds of acres of open space.
“It seems to me that you are asking us to start over,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, adding it would be a “catastrophic” policy decision to go back on previous public votes to buy and preserve open space and then build on it later.
If approved by voters, the $16 million in bonds would be borrowed at an average interest rate of 5.25 percent, assuming a 30-year term. It would allow the city to pay back the Wheeler Opera House fund, which it borrowed $8 million from to buy land for future affordable housing development. The bond also would provide about $7 million in working capital for the city to deal with contingencies for ongoing projects and revenue fluctuations.
And because the bond question to build Burlingame units has been delayed most likely to the spring election, the council decided to ask to renew the housing/day-care tax in the fall instead of May as was previously agreed upon.