Aspen council gives ‘caution light’ to proceed with Burlingame II
July 19, 2011
ASPEN – Aspen gave city employees working on plans to expand the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing development a green light Monday – well, as Councilman Derek Johnson put it, “a long caution light.”
At a work session Monday, the Aspen City Council listened to a presentation from assistant city manager Barry Crook and affordable housing project manager Chris Everson about various ways of proceeding with Burlingame II. For the first time this year in discussing the project, council members said plans seemed to be coming together and expressed a desire to keep the wheels in motion.
Since the meeting was a work session, there was no official vote. And, as it came up late in the meeting, if the city opts for a financing method that is not dependent on a bond issue to finance debt on a construction loan, then local voters won’t be asked to weigh in on the matter through a referendum. However, the public could still express its opinions at public hearings when the council meets to discuss the land-use process or votes on budget allocations for construction.
Though all the details weren’t ironed out, the council basically blessed staff recommendations to complete the land-use process through a series of meetings from July 25 through Sept. 12. Once the council grants land-use approval, the staff’s design team will be free to complete the construction design, along with drawings and specifications. The city is trying to save money on the process, with the understanding that any drawings completed before land-use approval might have to change significantly, according to a memorandum last week from Everson to the council.
Council members also seemed to favor timelines and scenarios that don’t call for a public vote on a bond referendum that would raise taxes to finance the project. In the recent past, a $50 million bond referendum has been mentioned. The city now is looking at different financing scenarios, including some that are debt-free, possibly using money from the portion of the real estate transfer tax (RETT) that’s dedicated to housing. For the past 18 months, the RETT has outperformed the city’s conservative budget estimates, Everson said. Put simply, RETT revenue could be a direct way of financing construction. But a bond issue would be a faster way of starting construction and creating local jobs, Crook and Everson have pointed out.
As for the pre-sales effort that’s been under way since late April – a method of gauging interest from potential homebuyers – council members appeared to favor a continuation of the current process in which interested local residents sign up on a list and pay a $40 fee toward becoming qualified through the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority. The application and fee do not guarantee them home ownership within Burlingame II – it simply records work history and financial information, putting them on a path toward becoming residents in the new development, should it ever be built.
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So far, 58 of 167 total applicants have become APCHA-qualified. Eleven of the 58 currently own deed-restricted housing. Of the 167 total applicants, 101 are renters. Most of the demand is for Category 2, 3 and 4 housing. Once more applications are filed and more potential buyers are qualified, the city might move to the next step of forging reservation agreements – which will require pre-qualified bank loans and $500 refundable deposits.
Burlingame’s first phase, completed in December 2008, consists of 91 units. It already has been constructed, sold and occupied. Plans call for 167 units at Burlingame II, but counci lmembers expressed a desire to tackle the project in two or three sub-phases, which would lower the city’s immediate costs. Both Burlingame I and II are in the same area, about 2.5 miles north of downtown Aspen off Highway 82 and Harmony Road, across the highway from Buttermilk.
Johnson said he was not crazy about building Burlingame II in three sub-phases, 55 units at a time, since the impact of construction on nearby Burlingame I residents would be stretched out longer. Most council members seem to favor two sub-phases of around 80 units each, although Mayor Mick Ireland cautioned against jumping to a specific number until demand for the units is confirmed more accurately.