A Burlingame Ranch rethink?
ASPEN ” A citizen task force charged with tracking city finances plans to recommend that an outside review of the costs associated with Burlingame Ranch be conducted.
The recommendation is a result of discrepancies that amount to at least $73 million more in costs than originally estimated for the affordable housing project near Buttermilk. (See related story.)
The housing subcommittee of the Citizen Budget Task Force also plans to recommend to the Aspen City Council next week that it rethink how to develop the final two phases of Burlingame, which are slated to begin next year.
That could include erecting an additional 100 units on the property. Some task force members say that adding more density to the development will reduce the total cost, which currently is estimated at $138 million with a taxpayer subsidy of $85.5 million.
Phases two and three at Burlingame call for 152 units. Phase one is nearly complete and includes 84 units.
The committee also will suggest that the council consider other ways to make the project more cost effective. A group of construction experts, including local builder John Olson, has been recruited to help find ways to make Burlingame less expensive to build. Their work could take up to five weeks. Their suggestions then will be presented to the City Council.
Barry Crook, assistant to the city manager and one of the key officials tracking the costs of Burlingame since its inception, said the construction experts already have begun their work. He agrees with the committee that a reconsideration of Burlingame might be necessary.
“A lot of their recommendations are good ones,” Crook said.
The subcommittee is scheduled to present its findings and recommendations to the City Council on May 20.
Olson told the subcommittee on Tuesday that while the costs have increased dramatically at Burlingame, the City Council made a lot of changes to improve the project.
“The voters will see that it was council driven and they did what was in the best interest of the people who were going to live there,” he said.
And as far as tracking the expenses, city officials have tried to explain the rising costs in a transparent fashion, Olson added.
“For a $138 million project, I don’t know if it can get much simpler,” he said.
Voters will be asked this fall to approve a bond measure that will borrow against future tax revenues in order to pay for phases two and three at Burlingame. That bond could be as much as $75 million.
But given the rising costs of the project, Burlingame proponents could be in for an uphill climb in convincing voters to approve it.
“There is a sticker-shock moment, and at that moment, you have to be as transparent as you possibly can to get past that moment,” Olson told the task force subcommittee earlier this week. “We’re at that moment.”
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A recent survey of Aspen residents shows that people are happy here, feel safe but are financially insecure.