Aspen City Council inches further on plans for hundreds of new affordable apartments

The Lumberyard project is years away as elected officials wade through affordable housing details

Wood is stacked in rows in the lumberyard in the Airport Business Center on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. The site is planned to be used for affordable housing in the future. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

When it comes to planning, designing and building 310 deed-restricted apartments and condos, the devil is in the details for Aspen City Council members, who spent nearly five hours Monday wading through a barrage of information about the Lumberyard affordable housing project.

Staff from the city and Cushing Terrell — a Denver-based architectural design firm on the team helping the municipal government devise the right balance of density, livability, environmental sustainability, parking and a litany of other elements of the project — went into great detail about the project during council’s work session.

It’s all laid out in a 164-page presentation document that gave recommendations and options for council to consider on what is an estimated at $330 million project on a 10.5-acre site at the Airport Business Center.

The land, currently occupied by Builders FirstSource and Aspen Mini Storage, is owned by the city, which paid $29.25 million over the years for the purpose of building affordable housing.

Construction on the project would begin in 2024 and could be phased for as long as 10 years.

The majority of council favored a concept called “Hinge,” which has 172 parking spaces underground, 120 carports and 140 surface lots.

The Hinge concept gets the project to almost 49% of net-zero ability, which is the estimated energy consumption based on the building shape and unit arrangement as it relates to rooftop solar and other environmental measures.

Mayor Torre said he’s concerned about four-story buildings throughout the site and the impact that will have on livability for residents and neighbors in the area.

“I think we are so on point with so much of the work we are doing here, and I know that no matter what we get, we are going to get a great product that is beneficial to our community,” he said. “I want as many units as possible within the right parameters, … but if we are asking for more and more and more and driving four stories across the site, well I’m concerned.

“I just want to make sure that we don’t screw this up by just asking for it all.”

Council members agreed that the units be mostly rental but with some ownership, as well as with income categories in the middle income range of between 85% and 120% of average median income.

The baseline recommendation from the design team considers a higher concentration of one-bedroom units, but the city could include more three-bedroom units for the purpose of adding more bedrooms to the project while maintaining a total of 310 units and to house more families or roommate arrangements, according to Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing project manager.

“We have known for years that the lower incomes in the Roaring Fork Valley are under served, but we weren’t really seeing that until now that they are just giving up,” Everson said. “We’re actually seeing a decline in lower income households up and down the valley, not just in Aspen.”

The recommended program unit mix range includes 212 rental units and across income levels distributed as 22% category 1; 38% category 2; 33% category 3; and 7% category 4.

There could be 98 ownership units proportioned as 41% one-bedroom, 43% two-bedroom and 16% three-bedroom units, and across income levels distributed as 23% category 2; 34% category 3; 26% category 4; and 17% category 5.

The program unit mix will be further refined throughout the remainder of the schematic design process and will be considered for final adoption and included in the affordable housing development application, according to Everson.

That proposed mix is based off an assessment prepared by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc.

The report sought to align the affordable housing development program based on analysis of income data for households throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and job growth within Pitkin County.

A community survey on the project, which is open until Jan. 15 on the city’s online platform, has had over 200 responses.

Laura Dougherty talks on a live video during an open house at the Limelight in Aspen to discuss affordable housing projects Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The city held an in-person open house on the project in mid-December in which about 40 people came and ranked their preferences.

Between both sets of respondent, the majority said they prefer money to be spent on underground parking and net zero efforts, and less preference for open space and smaller buildings, according to Heather Henry, of Connect One Design, a landscape architecture and land planning firm based in Basalt.

Councilman John Doyle said he likes what the public is saying.

“I am pleased to learn more from the outreach program, and I was really excited to see that net zero is so important to people, and I am pleasantly surprised that small buildings are not as important to people,” he said. “I think that is going to make my decision easier.”

The design team will come back to council in February with refined plans based on feedback they heard on Monday.