Aspen music campus project approved |

Aspen music campus project approved

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” One of Aspen’s key nonprofit organizations got what it wanted from the Pitkin County commissioners this week, in the form of approvals for redevelopment of the Aspen Music Festival and School campus on Maroon Creek Road.

But that approval came with some stern words about the organization’s insistence that it is exempt from formal “housing mitigation requirements” the county normally imposes on large development projects.

Commission chair Jack Hatfield conceded that the county code cannot require the music school to provide housing, either by building it, buying it or paying an “in-lieu” fee to the county, an inability he described as a regulatory oversight by previous county administrations.

He called the county’s housing mitigation regulations “inadequate” and mused that even if the music school could be forced or goaded into doing something about the housing crunch, “we’re not going to solve it with this application.”

But he and other commissioners talked about setting up a work session with the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority to talk about revamping the county’s housing mitigation requirements.

“I do not want the county commissioners and the county to be accused of not doing their job with regard to housing,” he said, apparently stung by criticism leveled at the board during the public hearing on the music school project.

Some $60 million worth of construction, which will essentially double the size of the music school campus from its current 50,000 square feet, is slated to begin in September. The music school uses the campus every summer and shares it with the Aspen Country Day School every fall, winter and spring.

The project will deliver new and rehabilitated buildings, with vastly improved acoustics and facilities for music school students, teachers and a host of visiting artists who come to Aspen every summer. It also will mean new classrooms for the Aspen Country Day students who attend classes up to the eighth grade at the campus every school year.

But even as the project cruised toward the finish line Wednesday, after about three hours of discussion, three critics stood before the county commissioners and demanded that the music school be required to do more to solve the community’s crushing affordable housing crisis.

Those critics included Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, City Council member Jack Johnson and recent council candidate Toni Kronberg, each of whom argued that the county needed to exact some type of affordable-housing mitigation from the Music Associates of Aspen (MAA), the corporate identity of the music festival and school.

Based on the MAA’s calculations that it will not be increasing its workforce as part of the expansion, the music school is not required to build or buy any affordable housing, or to contribute money to the county’s housing fund.

But Aspen Country Day, because it expects to increase its staff by 18 employees, will be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county’s housing fund, and was spared the criticism leveled at the music school.

Ireland, who was once a county commissioner, remarked that the county’s housing mitigation requirements amount to “a discretionary process” and urged the Board of County Commissioners to “use that discretion to negotiate a settlement” with the MAA that involves some direct contribution to affordable housing. He pointed out that, while the MAA claims it will not expand its workforce, the redevelopment project will generate dozens if not hundreds of construction jobs, all of which should be factored into the housing equation.

“It’s not just about job generation,” he continued, “it’s about what we’re losing.” He cited surveys showing that large numbers of current affordable housing occupants, who work in local jobs, are approaching retirement. The replacements for those jobs will need housing, too.

The headmaster at Aspen Country Day, John Suiter, unsuccessfully requested that the school’s $800,000 “in-lieu” housing payment be used for housing specifically reserved for the school’s teachers. When county commissioners declined, he said he and his board of directors would look more closely into the possibility of building housing somewhere or “buying down” existing free-market property to make it affordable for teachers.

The MAA’s Alan Fletcher, however, rejected accusations that his organization had not done anything to help relieve the housing crunch, pointing to the school’s participation in the construction of the Burlingame and Marolt seasonal housing projects as examples of the music school’s commitment to finding solutions to the problem.

He said after the meeting that the MAA’s board of directors talks about housing “at every meeting” and is seeking ways to invest in housing for teachers, students and visiting artists.

He said the school is facing its own housing crisis this summer, explaining that housing has not been found for many of the music students who will arrive in June.

“This is a bigger issue than our issue,” Fletcher declared. “I don’t think the problem is going to go away with direct and dedicated action.”

And the MAA, he said, will have to be part of that action, “as soon as we can do it.”