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Another vote on guidelines for housing?

John Colson

Resisting pressure to change his vote and upset a recent Aspen City Council decision approving affordable housing regulations, Councilman Jim Markalunas said last week “right now” he is not “inclined” toward changing his vote.

But, he added, “There are some serious deficiencies in the housing guidelines as they’re written,” and he had yet to make up his mind on the subject.

Markalunas is being urged by outgoing council member Jake Vickery and others to change his vote from the May 24, council meeting, when he voted to adopt a majority of a proposed set of revisions to the Aspen/Pitkin County Affordable Housing Authority guidelines.

The controversial revisions set income and price caps for buyers of “resident occupied” or RO housing and established an $170,000 average unit sale price within individual affordable housing projects. The changes touched off a heated debate about whether private developers would want to build such housing under such restrictions because the potential for profit is reduced.

Housing units built under the RO classification have sold in the $500,000 to $800,000 range, but the new caps would limit RO prices to a maximum of $425,000. Previously, RO housing prices were unrestricted, as an incentive to encourage developers to build some less expensive housing in their projects.

Developer Tim Semrau led the charge against the proposed restrictions – particularly the average price per unit – maintaining that private developers would not bother to develop affordable housing projects under these guidelines. The $170,000 average price for units within a development restricts a builder’s ability to use more expensive housing, like RO, to subsidize cheaper units within a project, according to Semrau.

But government officials countered that, since less expensive housing was never proposed by private developers under the old rules, Semrau’s argument is based on “a myth.”

Under the City Council’s rules, the vote to adopt the new restrictions can only be reconsidered if a request is made by a council member who voted with the majority – in favor of passing the legislation. Markalunas, at the council meeting, indicated he was not comfortable with the new guidelines, although he ultimately voted to adopt them. Vickery, along with Councilman Terry Paulson, voted against the changes to the guidelines.

In letters to the editors of local newspapers, both Vickery and Heidi Friedland, a friend of Semrau’s, have urged Markalunas to force a reconsideration.

“I intend to give some serious thought to it,” Markalunas said of the requests to reopen the discussion. “I want what’s best for the community.”

He said that among his concerns are such questions as exactly how much taxpayers money should be spent subsidizing affordable housing, and how far the city should go in trying to entice private developers to get involved with the housing program.


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