Aspen council votes for shorter, smaller affordable housing at Castle Creek
December 11, 2017
The final piece of the Aspen City Council's triple crown of new affordable-housing projects received approval Monday night, but Mayor Steve Skadron wanted no part of it.
"This is a fickle commitment … to our workforce," Skadron said defiantly before voting against the 24-unit project in the Castle Creek Valley.
The mayor was upset because a majority of his fellow council members voted down a resolution minutes before that would have approved a fourth floor on the project with an additional four one-bedroom units that city staff say would have housed seven full-time Pitkin County employees.
"It's an absolute mistake not to support (the additional units)," said Skadron, who was joined in opposition to the 24-unit project by Councilman Ward Hauenstein.
The 488 Castle Creek Road project, as approved Monday, will feature 24 affordable-housing units — 14 one-bedroom apartments and 10 two-bedrooms. The three-story option is expected to house 47 people who work full-time in Pitkin County.
The 28-unit incarnation would have housed 54 full-time employees who work in the county, according to city documents.
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Neighbors and residents of the Castle Creek Valley have criticized the project for being too dense, too lofty in height and lacking parking.
Without the fourth story, it will measure 42 feet tall. With it, the project would have been 45-feet, 8.75-inches tall, according to city documents.
Councilman Bert Myrin joined Ann Mullins and Adam Frisch in approving the project. Frisch and Mullins came out against the 28-unit version last month at a City Council meeting where the vote on the project deadlocked at 2-2 because Myrin was out of town.
On Monday, Myrin at first said he supported the less density, 24-unit version of the project because it lowered the risk of being sued, presumably by Castle Creek neighbors, which lowered the risk of endangering all three affordable-housing projects the City Council recently approved. The three projects on city-owned land — including one on Main Street and another on Park Circle — likely will be bundled together in a grant application to the state housing authority early next year, according to developers and city officials who spoke Monday night.
However, after some prodding by Hauenstein, Myrin acknowledged that he was against the fourth floor of the Castle Creek project "entirely" because the mass and scale created by the extra four units was out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.
Myrin said the 10-unit affordable-housing complex approved last month for 802 W. Main St. should have included two units that were voted down by a majority of councilors— Myrin was in the minority — in favor of a tree.
"I wish two of these units would have gone to Main Street," Myrin said.
Mullins reiterated her opposition to the 28-unit Castle Creek configuration, saying her sympathies — when it comes to affordable housing — lie in creating community and not in maximizing the number of housed "workers." The comment, she said, was a nod to the growing community debate over retirees occupying affordable-housing units and who the decades-old city-county affordable-housing program is meant to benefit.
The council approved an 11-unit affordable-housing complex at 517 Park Circle near the base of Smuggler Mountain in October.
Hauenstein, who sided with Skadron for the larger density version of the Castle Creek project and against the 24-unit version that was approved, attempted at one point to move the entire project to another location.
Hauenstein lobbied for the 28-unit Castle Creek project to be transferred to a 10-acre parcel near the Marolt housing complex, which was given to the city by former longtime Aspenite Opal Marolt. City Attorney Jim True said the property has no conditions attached to its use.
The proposition appeared to befuddle Frisch and Skadron, who urged the council to focus on the land-use application at hand.
Still, Hauenstein persevered. He said he'd walked the site recently, and pointed out that the cost of building the project would be cheaper on land the city didn't pay for as opposed to the Castle Creek site, which cost $5.2 million.
"There could be another site there," said Skadron, who pointed out that the city would still own the $5.2 million Castle Creek lots.
"We could sell it," Hauenstein said.
"Why would you say that?" Skadron said. "You say you're a supporter of affordable housing."