Aspen explains Burlingame to public
ASPEN ” Close to 100 people appeared at Aspen City Hall on Tuesday to learn more about the Burlingame affordable housing project that has captured headlines and public interest over the past three months.
City officials spent nearly 100 hours preparing for Tuesday’s open house, which was held between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The City Council chambers in the basement of City Hall was crammed with poster boards full of information on Burlingame Ranch and city officials explaining to citizens the history of the project, its finances and what the future holds for the property, located across from Buttermilk on the north side of Highway 82.
Aspen resident Liz Siegel was prompted to come and ask questions as a result of the controversy that has been swirling around the city-built project. The first of three phases at Burlingame has been built.
“I came because of Marilyn Marks,” Siegel said as she was being led around to different information stations by City Manager Steve Barwick.
Marks has become the most vocal of government critics concerning Burlingame Ranch. As a former member of the housing subcommittee of the City Council-appointed citizen budget task force, Marks discovered an information error in a 2005 city-initiated brochure that was given to voters.
The brochure said the total cost of the project was $74.3 million, with the overall taxpayer subsidy being $14.7 million. But city officials now say the total taxpayer subsidy will be $85.5 million, based on recent estimates.
The number used in the brochure was the construction bid to build housing only and didn’t include other costs of the project such as land, infrastructure, and design and engineering work. City officials have said those costs should have been included and the omission was a mistake. They have since apologized.
A large poster board in council chambers during the open house, which read “What the brochure should have said,” accounts for the additional costs. When factored in, the brochure should have said the total cost would have been $89 million ” infrastructure was $8 million; land costs were $1.7 million; land fees for the school were $161,000; Highway 82 intersection improvements were $1.2 million; additional buses cost $1 million and additional soft costs account for $2.5 million.
Other cost increases include inflated construction costs, and City Council changes to the project account for $11.8 million. Those council-ordered changes were discussed in public meetings and span several different administrations.
A local builder, who would only refer to himself as “Jim,” was studying the timeline of the project, which dates back to the 1990s. He was at the open house to learn more about the growing costs of construction in Aspen and how the city government is handling it.
“I have a different interest … how the financing of the whole project, all things considered, affect the outcome,” he said, adding some of his clients have bailed on projects because the costs have exceeded their budget. “I understand how [Burlingame] exploded.”
He deduced from the timeline how, over several years and with changes made to the project, costs incrementally rose.
“It’s good to see how we did get here,” the builder said, adding if citizens had been following the changes made by various councils, Burlingame costs could be put in context. “A lot of times people don’t pay attention until the ‘uh-oh’ point.”
Aspen resident Dave Gordon, who is interested in environmental science, came to the open house to learn more about the green building techniques at Burlingame, which were directed by a previous council.
But even with low-flush toilets in Burlingame units, Gordon said he was disappointed by seeing surrounding open space at the development being irrigated.
“I was cautiously optimistic about the green aspects … but I have been disappointed,” he said. “Green grass is kind of a luxury in the West.”
There are currently 84 multifamily units built at Burlingame Ranch, as well as approvals for seven single-family lots, of which only one has been constructed. Phases two and three could include hundreds more multifamily units.
Richard Low, who has built the one single-family home at Burlingame but has yet to move in with his family, came to the open house to see what all the controversy was about.
“I was worried about what I was hearing but after doing a little research it’s fine,” he said, adding the focus should be on finding solutions, not complaining and finding blame. “These numbers were made up 11 years ago … We have a wonderful community there.
“We are forgetting about the human side of this; it’s not just about money.”
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