Aspen approves affordable housing at Boomerang site
July 12, 2011
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday night gave tentative approval to a private developer’s plan for an affordable-housing complex on the West Hopkins Avenue site of the former Boomerang Lodge.
The decision was considered a “straw vote,” with a formal vote on a more finely crafted ordinance planned for a future meeting. Mayor Mick Ireland and councilmen Adam Frisch and Steve Skadron voiced their support for new plans that weren’t finally crafted until after 11:20 p.m.
Council members, the development group and opponents debated and wrangled for more than three hours over the size of the project and its compatibility with the neighborhood around it. Also, Monday night’s discourse on the issue represented the sixth public hearing the city has held on developer Steve Stunda’s plans since the beginning of the year, counting both Planning and Zoning Commission and council meetings.
In the end, it came down to Ireland calling for a brief recess late in the meeting to force a compromise between Stunda’s group and neighborhood opponents of the development. Most opponents said they wanted a much smaller building with fewer units, something in the neighborhood of 30,000 square feet of living space and 32 units. Stunda’s plan called for 42 units – a considerable reduction from the initial plan last year that called for more than 50 units – covering about 41,000 square feet. When some opponents suggested continuing the meeting for two weeks to allow time for Stunda’s group to consider their counterproposal of a drastically reduced project, Stunda declined, preferring to alter his plans slightly to get some type of approval Monday night. “Time is money, and we’ve been bleeding here, slowly,” he said.
Before the break at 10:15 p.m. – the council meeting started at 5 p.m. and the Boomerang discussion started after 8 – Stunda said he was amenable to lopping off the proposed fourth floor of the complex’s middle building and reducing the project by about two more units. At the council’s urging, he also appeared willing to work with the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority to move half of the 40 units from a Category 4 designation to Category 3, which would make them slightly less expensive for the local workers buying them.
Attorney Mike Hoffman, representing the developer, also floated the idea of the city allowing Stunda to pre-sell 20 units to local employers, who would rent them out or sell them to their employees. The units would be deed-restricted and subject to APCHA rules. City officials plan more discussions with APCHA and the developer on that aspect of the proposal.
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Stunda already has city approval, which he obtained in 2006, for a much larger lodge building on the site. The weakened economy and the creation of a financial incentive program for private developers who build affordable housing led his group to switch gears with regard to plans for the site, which lies between Fourth and Fifth streets on West Hopkins Avenue, along the pedestrian bikeway.
After hearing the comments from neighbors, Ireland – a strong proponent of affordable housing – expressed amazement that most neighbors said they would prefer a larger, monolithic lodge building on the site as opposed to a smaller building containing people with whom they could become familiar.
“The original lodge building [concept] that had so much neighborhood approval was a brick,” Ireland said. “And it was a bigger brick.
“Now I live in affordable housing, so that’s my bias, but in my neighborhood if you had come … as a community and said to my neighborhood, ‘We’d like to put in a lodge instead,’ I wouldn’t take the deal.”
Ireland said the neighborhood would be strengthened by the inclusion of workers in the area, not part-time residents, fractional owners or visitors staying in a lodge. “Because the loss of you would be a loss to me and a loss to the community,” he said. “I prefer having people around … and I tell you what, it’s great.”
He also had positive words for the developer’s idea of making a few of the deed-restricted units “car-free” – meaning that residents of two or three specific units would not be allowed to have a car parked within the city limits.
Ireland also addressed some of the project’s criticisms, saying the demand for APCHA-approved housing shows that a lot of Aspen workers don’t necessarily want to live in free-market properties and aren’t more likely to move downvalley to take advantage of properties that have gone down in value.
He told the neighbors that they may not feel like they’ve earned a victory, but the developer agreed to lopping off an entire floor of the building and reducing the project.
“I apologize to you for the disappointment but as time goes on I think you’ll feel that you’ve achieved a lot,” Ireland said.
Whereas at previous hearings neighbors targeted parking plans, on Monday they attacked the number of units and the project’s sheer size. Still, the parking plan calling for slightly more than one dedicated space per unit was brought into question, with opponents asking for at least 1.5 spaces per unit on average. The plan calls for 34 spaces on site (33 in a parking garage) and 12 on Fourth Street as head-in parking.
Earlier in the night, neighbors balked at plans that called for a middle building that would rise to four stories and 41 feet. Stunda’s revamped plan broke the complex up into three buildings after neighbors and council members said last month that the building was too monolithic. In exchange for breaking up the building into three pieces, he said he needed the fourth floor for five units.
In addition to calling for fewer units and smaller buildings, neighbors last night also asked for more green space surrounding the buildings, a point they failed to achieve.