Aspen Mass to be downzoned? | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Mass to be downzoned?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen and Pitkin County paid $1.65 million for a housing site that is poised to be downzoned with the county’s proposed land-use code revisions.

The move apparently has some city officials wondering about the fate of their investment.

“I don’t have the answer, since our partners have decided to downzone it and eliminate its potential for housing,” said City Councilman Tim Semrau.

The city and county are joint owners of the Aspen Mass property near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. It was purchased in 1997 with affordable housing in mind, but the property falls outside of Aspen’s urban growth boundary under the proposed code revisions. The downzoning will preclude its use for high-density housing.

That means the city and county paid $1.65 million for a 30-acre housing site that may not see any affordable housing.

“Under the new zoning, we’d be able to put one house on it. That’s a lot of money for one unit of housing,” said Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

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The city’s 170 acres at nearby Cozy Point Ranch would be downzoned, as well. However, since the equestrian facility has been taken off the table as a potential site for any significant housing development, the effects of the new code on that property aren’t as troubling, Sadler said.

“For the foreseeable future, Cozy Point has been pretty well blown off for housing,” he said. “The political will is not there at this point. I think what concerns [the city] is Aspen Mass.”

The fate of Aspen Mass is likely to come up when the City Council and county commissioners meet Tuesday. The findings of the city’s new housing master plan and the proposed county zoning changes are both on the table for discussion.

The city put up $1 million of the purchase price for Aspen Mass and paid $75,000 two years ago for a competition that produced a winning design for 120 units of housing on the property. That design, however, requires the acquisition of an adjacent piece of property owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The investment – minus whatever could be recouped by selling the single buildable lot left with the rezoning – represents a loss to the housing program, Semrau contends.

The purchase was not a waste of money, countered County Commissioner Mick Ireland.

Aspen Mass remains a secondary option for housing if the city’s plans for affordable housing at Burlingame Ranch fall through for some reason, he said.

“When we acquired Aspen Mass with the city, Burlingame was not on the radar screen,” Ireland said.

At the time, the city also considered the site valuable for a potential land swap with the U.S. Forest Service for the agency’s in-town property.

Aspen Mass was considered a good site along a mass transit route to build housing for families, Ireland said. It still has that potential if housing is not constructed at Burlingame, which is closer to Aspen and inside the proposed urban growth boundary.

“If Burlingame does not happen, [Aspen Mass] is the fall-back position,” he said. “The urban growth boundary can be amended. That may have to happen.”

And Aspen Mass still has potential uses – as an outlying parking facility, for example, Ireland added. Cozy Point Ranch was recently used as a 1,000-car parking lot for the X Games at Buttermilk, but some City Council members have said they’d like to see some place else designated for such uses.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who opposes building housing at Aspen Mass, said he favors keeping the parcel even if nothing is done with it.

“Maybe in 10 or 20 years, it will be appropriate to build there. My opinion is it’s totally appropriate to leave it totally undeveloped,” he said. “I have no problem sitting on a resource. The land doesn’t go away.”