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Aspen Mass plans spark anticipation

Janet Urquhart

The results of a search for some creative design ideas for an affordable housing project outside Aspen will be unveiled Tuesday.

Five entries for the Aspen Mass housing project were turned in by Wednesday’s deadline. They remained, still sealed, in Jay Leavitt’s office at the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority yesterday. Leavitt, director of development for the housing office, said he planned to review the entries last night.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m hopeful that these designs will be something very unusual and very creative. That’s what I’m hoping for, but we’ll see.”

Leavitt said he alone will see the designs before they are put on display at the Wheeler Opera House on Tuesday at 10 a.m. They will be judged by an already-selected panel on Sept. 8, and the winning design will be announced Sept. 11 at 10 a.m. at the opera house.

“This is a blind judging,” Leavitt said. “There will be no names on any of the designs. They’ll be numbered, and the judges will select a number as the winner.”

Tim Semrau, a local developer of affordable housing and a member of the Housing Board, is a member of the judging panel. He said he’ll be looking for something “absolutely, fantastically creative that nobody would have imagined” in the designs.

“Hopefully, one of them will just jump out and say `pick me.’ Hopefully it will be obvious which one is best,” he said.

The housing board decided on a design competition for Aspen Mass in the hope that some innovative, “outside-the-box” ideas would result.

The housing office envisions 120 to 150 rental and for-sale units on the 30-acre, government-owned parcel, located just downvalley from the park-and-ride lot at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82. There is no established date to break ground on the project.

The office received 90 requests for more information from firms across the country when the contest began. Fourteen submitted proposals, and the judging panel chose five of them to produce a conceptual design for the project. Each of the five firms will receive $10,000, and the winning firm will receive another $10,000.

The finalists that submitted design entries are: Civatas/Stan Clausen, Denver and Aspen; Coburn Development, Boulder; Dennis Wedlick/Ted Guy, Basalt; ICON Architects, Boston, Mass.; and OTAK of Carbondale and Lake Oswego, Ore.

“We tried to create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that encourages the use of mass transit,” said Rob Rowe of Coburn Development in a prepared statement. “A compact design and pedestrian scale is enhanced by elements such as front porches, natural materials, landscaped pocket parks and screened parking.”

Aspen City Councilman Tom McCabe, a member of the housing board and the judging panel, said he expects all of the designs will reflect a sensitivity to cost, mass transit use, environmentally friendly construction and the like.

“It’s exciting to see what the variations will be,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect. I’m hoping it’s going to be real top-notch stuff.”

“I hope to see a winning entry that breaks the mold for employee housing and sets a new standard for future projects,” added Roger Haneman, a judge and member of the city Planning and Zoning Commission.

Other judges include local architect Suzannah Reid; Allan Wallis, professor of public policy at the University of Denver; local developer John Sarpa; T. Michael Manchester, architect and Snowmass Village mayor; Bill Kane, vice president of planning for the Aspen Skiing Co.; and Will Fleissig, a Boulder planner, developer and architect.


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