Aspen takes baby step toward Burlingame II
September 28, 2011
ASPEN – Aspen City Council members indicated Tuesday that they aren’t yet ready to dive head first into an extension of the Burlingame affordable-housing subdivision.
However, they did dip another toe in the water by directing city staff to urge potential buyers to get prequalified with banks and other mortgage lenders. The general idea was that if around 60 or 65 interested buyers go through the steps and become prequalified, then council members might feel comfortable starting construction next year on 82 units, or half of the total number of dwellings planned for Burlingame Phase II.
Still, council members didn’t directly set a “magic number” of 60 prequalified buyers. Nor did they say they would definitely commit money in the 2012 budget – an estimated $9.5 million – to start preparing the site for home construction next spring. The preliminary work will involve earthmoving and setting up infrastructure, and the city wants to start taking bids for the job well before the 2012 construction season.
The council likely will make those decisions later this year or early next year, said assistant city manager R. Barry Crook. He, along with Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing project manager, sought direction from council members about the pace of proceeding with the project. Tuesday’s work session discussion on the topic lasted about 90 minutes.
Crook said that so far, 206 people have expressed interest through the city’s presales initiative in buying a home in the yet-to-be realized development. Sixty-eight applicants, or 33 percent, have been preliminarily qualified by the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, a process that involves a fee and basic financial and personal information.
Of the 68, 66 are interested in the less-expensive APCHA categories, one through four, while two are seeking homes in a higher category, Crook said.
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He said the presales effort has gone well, but more people might express an interest in the development if the city indicated that it was taking a few extra steps with its commitment. Since there has been no work on the site, potential buyers don’t have a sense that the project will become reality, he said.
“We have some belief that people have said, ‘You asked me to put my name on a list, and I’ve done that. Going forward seems to be a hassle … and you want me to write a check for something I don’t know about.’ So we talked about how might we create some incentives to get people to do all the things that you might want them to,” Crook said.
Those incentives, he said, include the possibility of the city agreeing to subsidize APCHA qualification fees (a $40 value); paying mortgage prequalification fees (a $30 value); providing special “finish upgrade packages” worth $2,000 to 15 of the first 82 who become prequalified and close on a unit (winners determined by lottery); and beginning earthmoving and utility infrastructure work in early 2012.
“I do think bulldozers get people excited,” said Councilman Adam Frisch.
Most council members said they would like to begin “horizontal” pre-construction work in early 2012 and “vertical” construction of the buildings containing housing units in 2013, but did not commit to the other incentives Crook mentioned.
“I think that’s kind of what we want to do,” said Mayor Mick Ireland.
The city has spent about $20,000 to date on the presales program. Crook said he believes the city’s in-house efforts to gauge interest in Burlingame II have proved productive and that an outside consultant – which the city sought to hire earlier this year – would have been no more successful.
Local teacher Adam Hancock addressed the council near the end of the discussion. He said his family is on the APCHA-qualified list and he would like to see the city move ahead in tangible ways.
“I think we just heard two really important things from Adam,” said Councilman Torre. “One is that there are families that are looking for family housing, and [secondly] they are interested in Burlingame. When anyone in our community wonders who are these people … they are our teachers.”