Semrau touts lower cost of Parcel D | AspenTimes.com

Semrau touts lower cost of Parcel D

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s desire to reduce the cost of building affordable housing by handing it over to the private sector appears to be working, according to one elected official who pushed hard to get government out of the building business.

Construction of Parcel D, a 39-unit worker housing project, is expected to start next week near the Aspen Business Center. It will cost less per square foot to construct than any of the last three affordable housing projects built in the city, according to initial calculations.

In addition, the city’s new design guidelines, which dictate environmentally friendly design/construction and a certain grade of finishes and building components, will apply at Parcel D.

“It’s a definite upgrade from prior projects,” contends Councilman Tim Semrau.

“At Parcel D, it took us nine months from initial conception to ground breaking, it’s of higher quality … and the cost is 30 percent less than we’ve done before. I’ll take it,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, the privatization of our efforts at Parcel D has been effective.”

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Semrau, a builder himself, has been a proponent of turning over the development of housing to the private sector both in his role as a councilman and as a former member of the board that oversees the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

The overall cost of building housing projects, per square foot, varies dramatically, given the vastly different variables among individual developments – land costs, infrastructure costs, building configurations, surface versus covered parking and even the number of bedrooms per unit.

In general, an all one-bedroom project, like Parcel D, will cost more than building units with multiple bedrooms, because kitchens and bathrooms are the most expensive rooms to build. A three-bedroom unit still has just one kitchen, but each one-bedroom condo or studio will have one, explained Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

Several years ago, the Housing Authority began using a complex formula that allows a fair comparison of construction costs for different projects. It takes into account the difference between a project that has a lot of square footage devoted to tuck-under parking, deck space and exterior stairwells, which cost far less to build than heated living space, and one that doesn’t. The formula produces what’s called an equivalent cost per square foot.

An initial run of the numbers for Parcel D puts the so-called “hard costs” related to actual construction, in equivalent costs, at $133.89 per square foot.

That number, however, is based on anticipated construction costs of $7.3 million. The final changes made to the project by the City Council and higher-than-anticipated insurance costs have boosted that total to $8.3 million. But, that sum is expected to drop, according to Sadler.

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The $8.3 million is for a 40-unit project, and the city has agreed to

eliminate one condo in negotiations with the neighboring Aspen Business Center to comply with its covenants.

The equivalent cost of actual construction for the city’s Truscott Place expansion – 99 new rental units completed last year – was $174.45 per square foot.

The equivalent construction cost for 11 sale units at Seventh and Main, finished in 2001, was $215.06 per square foot. That number is actually low, though, as it doesn’t take into account the cost of converting the space for what was intended to be a convenience store into a 12th unit.

Fifteen sale units at Snyder Park, which welcomed its first owners in early 2000, was constructed for an equivalent cost of $152.41 per square foot, according to a Housing Authority report. Semrau, however, said he believes the final costs for Snyder were actually higher.

“When we were on the housing board, we were outraged at how much Snyder cost,” he said.

Development of Seventh and Main and Snyder were both overseen by the Housing Authority; Truscott was a city project.

For Parcel D, the city conducted a design competition and awarded contracts for the final design and construction of the project to the winning team. It’s a process the City Council anticipates using for the larger Burlingame Ranch housing development, as well. Up to 330 units may be constructed at Burlingame.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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