Aspen looks for buy-in at Burlingame Ranch
ASPEN – As the city government prepares to design and build the remaining 167 units at its largest affordable housing development, the Aspen City Council is looking for others to help absorb the estimated $78 million to $85 million price tag.
City officials spent three hours Tuesday making a sales pitch of sorts to the Pitkin County commissioners to be a partner in the next phase of development at Burlingame Ranch; 84 multifamily units and seven single-family homes have already been built behind Deer Hill across from Buttermilk.
“We want to be partners with you financially,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, adding that the people who live at Burlingame, predominately families, are the commissioners’ constituents as well as the council’s.
And from a policy standpoint, the county should buy into the development because it’s in the urban growth boundary, along mass transit routes and creates a strong community, Ireland said. Burlingame residents’ close proximity to town allow them to be more available to volunteer and participate in community activities than those who live farther downvalley, he added.
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City officials aren’t far enough along in planning the second phase of Burlingame to know what the exact per unit subsidy will be. A guaranteed maximum price bid is expected to be solidified by June.
With current estimates, it appears that it could be a $350,000 per unit subsidy, said Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Ireland said with the construction industry slowdown, prices are likely to drop and therefore the subsidy would be less. He added that the subsidy includes land costs and isn’t just construction of the units.
The city spent $52.5 million on the first phase of Burlingame. With the sales of the units, about $20 million has been recouped – a subsidy that averages about $330,000 per unit.
Another roughly $7.6 million has been spent on Phase II, which includes staff time, audits, architect fees and public open houses, according to city officials.
Because the housing fund has been depleted after four properties were purchased in the past few years that total more than $30 million, the council is considering asking voters this fall to approve a bond to finance Burlingame’s completion. It would be paid back through revenue collected from the real estate transfer tax, which the city’s housing fund collects on half of 1 percent of all property sales.
City officials hope that part of Burlingame’s costs will be absorbed by potential partners who would buy in and house their employees there. But interest appears to be waning from institutions like the Aspen School District, the Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Valley Hospital, Music Associates of Aspen, and the Aspen Art Museum.
When asked their interest level in 2008, all of those organizations, plus Pitkin County, said they collectively might commit to 66 units at Burlingame, city officials said. But when asked again in April 2009, all potential housing partners said their original estimates needed to be revised and no commitments could be made.
If commitments had been made, those institutions would have had to fund about 20 percent of the development’s design and development, as well as be prepared to fund the entire fund balance for the units prior to construction.
But given the dismal economic climate, those employers have pulled back.
Commitment won’t likely be made until a final price tag for Burlingame has been set in stone via the guaranteed maximum price bid.
County commissioners didn’t make any commitments Tuesday but said they would discuss their interest level at their board retreat this week.
Pitkin County doesn’t have an established program to house its employees. But from a policy standpoint, the commissioners previously decided that half of whatever money is available should go toward housing county employees and the other half should go toward the general pool of people who work in the county.
Commissioner Patti Clapper said if up to $85 million is going to be spent to build out Burlingame, the local government ought to find a way to help financially strapped residents who live there currently. Clapper said about two dozen households are behind on their homeowner assessment dues, and many of them are struggling to avoid foreclosure.
“One thing adds to the other and it builds up,” she said.
Ireland agreed that the local government should find a way to ease the financial pressures for families who can’t pay homeowner dues or face foreclosure.
“We will try to work with people,” he said.
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