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September 25, 2013
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Basalt senior-housing project hits snag

The review of a proposal for a senior-housing and assisted-living project in Basalt was placed on hold by the Town Council on Tuesday night until the developer sweetens the pot with affordable housing.

The council voted 5-2 to table consideration of the Aspen Valley Foundation’s application for a continuing-care retirement community to give the applicants’ representative and senior town staff time to negotiate an agreement on affordable housing.

The town code would require the development to provide 39 affordable-housing units. Richard Shaw, of Design Workshop, the representative for the foundation, said building that much housing would make the project fiscally infeasible. Instead, the foundation offered to waive an entry fee on 12 of 78 independent housing units and build one affordable-housing unit for an employee of the retirement community.

The value of waiving the entry fee on 12 units has never been established. The Aspen Valley Foundation says it isn’t far enough into the process to determine the price of the entry fee. However, Shaw claimed that the applicants “have done a tremendous amount in the beginning” by waiving the fee. That is the biggest “barrier” for some residents getting into a senior-housing project, he said.

But four members of the council made it clear the offer wasn’t good enough.

“I don’t think we’re addressing the problem of affordable housing,” Councilman Herschel Ross said.

Councilwoman Karin Teague said the project is welcome and needed, but the proposal doesn’t provide any truly affordable housing. The foundation hasn’t announced what it intends to charge for monthly rents, she noted.

“What we’re getting is no guarantee of affordable housing here,” Teague said. “If rents are astronomical, that’s not affordable.”

Teague pushed for construction of affordable-housing units as part of the project.

“I’ve never understood why there isn’t affordable housing on this site,” she said.

On the other end of the debate were Councilmen Glenn Rappaport and Rick Stevens. Rappaport said the retirement community would create valuable jobs for Basalt, so the town should waive the affordable-housing requirement. Shaw estimated the project would create 77 jobs.

Basalt needs jobs more than it needs affordable housing right now, Rappaport said. He noted that some free-market housing prices are still low as a result of the recession.

But Councilman Mark Kittle countered that the fact that the retirement community is creating jobs is why some affordable housing should be required.

“I don’t want the Aspen mentality of 5,000 cars going up the valley (to jobs) in the morning and 5,000 or more coming downvalley (to homes) at night,” Kittle said.

Councilman Rob Leavitt advocated a middle ground. He credited the foundation for waiving the entry fees on 12 units but also said additional affordable housing might be necessary.

Shaw argued to try to salvage the Aspen Valley Foundation’s proposal.

“This whole project is a community benefit,” he said. Stevens concurred.

Shaw said the town’s own independent feasibility study of the project said it wouldn’t work if affordable housing was required. That could potentially add millions of dollars to the cost of the project.

But Mayor Jacque Whitsitt countered that waiving entry fees on 12 independent housing units also could mean a multimillion-dollar investment for the foundation.

“I think it’s pretty obvious there is no affordability in this project right now, and there needs to be,” Whitsitt said.

The council majority voted to direct their staff to work with the Aspen Valley Foundation on a solution before resuming the review. Rappaport and Stevens voted against the motion.


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 25, 2013 09:22AM Published Sep 26, 2013 03:30PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.