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Aspen Institute offers new affordable housing proposal for Bayer Center

Boettcher Hall and the proposed plot of land at The Aspen institute on Saturday.
Courtesy Photo

The Aspen Institute is changing how it will provide affordable housing in an effort to gain approval for a new building on its campus that will house the work of renowned artist and architect Herbert Bayer.

Institute representatives last month heard feedback from Aspen City Council during their first review of the proposal to build a 7,536-square-foot Center for Bayer Studies.

Council members said the Institute’s proposal of paying a cash-in-lieu fee of almost $221,000 for an estimated 1.5 employees generated by the development is not acceptable, noting that onsite housing is the preferred alternative.

“The community is dying for housing and a fraction of a unit doesn’t house anyone,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “I think the community has grown beyond the point where we can waive affordable housing or accept payment in lieu.”

Richard Stettner, vice president of facilities at the Institute, said the nonprofit organization will come back to council for second reading scheduled for Feb. 25 with a proposal to buy affordable housing credits through a program developed by local Peter Fornell.

“We’ve given up on cash in lieu based on comments from council,” he said.

The housing credit program allows a developer to build affordable housing and get a credit for each unit that comes on line. That credit can then be sold to another developer who uses it to fulfill employee mitigation requirements on a separate project.

Fornell said he typically charges about 10% more than what the city’s cash in lieu fee is.

He confirmed that the Institute is under contract to buy enough credits to cover its obligations.

If approved, an audit will be conducted two years and five years after the center opens to determine how many employees the facility necessitates.

Because the Institute is designated by the city as an “essential public facility” it doesn’t have to provide as much affordable housing as a standard commercial development because typically it generates fewer employees, according to the city’s land-use code.

The Institute has been exempt from creating employee housing since 1991 when City Council approved the campus as a “specially planned area.”

As such, council has the authority to “assess, waive or partially waive affordable housing mitigation requirements as is deemed appropriate and warranted for the purpose of promoting civic uses and in consideration of broader community goals,” according to Amy Simon, the city’s historic preservation officer.

Stettner said the approved square footage in the 1991 plan was finally consumed with the completion of the Albright Pavilion addition, and now the Institute is subject to the current city code.

“This is why the Institute is now providing housing credits for the Center for Herbert Bayer Studies,” he said. “We want to follow all guidelines and rules of the city.”

The Institute also is seeking an expedited land-use and permit review process so it can build the new center this fall and be open by the summer of 2021.

In exchange, the Institute will voluntary designate the adjacent Boettcher building in the city’s historic resources inventory, preventing it from ever being torn down or significantly altered.

Simon told council on Jan. 28 during first reading of the land-use application that the historic designation of the Boettcher building is the biggest benefit of the proposal.

The building is important to the city and the Institute because it was one of the last ones designed and built by local architect Fritz Benedict and Bayer, both students of the Bauhaus style of modernist architecture and industrial design, Simon noted.

The Institute also proposes to do a modest renovation of the Boettcher building, which opened in 1975.

The Bayer Center for Studies will pay homage to Bayer, who was the planner of the Institute campus and designer of most of the buildings and art.

“In 2019, the Aspen Institute was gifted funds to develop a Center for Herbert Bayer Studies,” Simon wrote in a memo to council. “This donation was the result of a policy decision to place more emphasis on Bayer’s legacy, so the Institute will only collect and display his work and will increase opportunities for public involvement.”

She told council in January that the Bayer family plans to donate 13 pieces by the multi-disciplinary artist for the new center.

“It’s a very exciting project,” Simon said.

Council is scheduled to review the proposal again Feb. 25 but it may get pushed to another date because only three council members will be present.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein will be out of town and Councilwoman Ann Mullins has recused herself because she conducts tours at the Institute.

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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