Aspen to seek public input on affordable rental housing projects

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council decided Tuesday to seek public input on three specific affordable-housing parcels in which the city wants to develop long-term rental housing.

Council members agreed that the current need in town — especially given the fact that the city has built a reasonable amount of for-purchase projects in recent years — is for long-term rental housing. The council agreed there’s also a shortage of seasonal rental units in town.

“I don’t think we’ve built one affordable rental unit since I’ve been on council,” Mayor Steven Skadron said.

The council decided that what it calls the “Lumber Yard,” the former BMC West lumber property currently in use by ProBuild, is off the table for now. The “Lumber Yard” is a more than 7-acre parcel with the potential for other uses on the site in addition to affordable-housing units,

Instead, the council will seek input on the three parcels at 517 Park Circle, 802 West Main and 488 Castle Creek. After the public input is gathered through a series of open house-style meetings, city staff will come back to the council for direction on specific projects.

Councilman Adam Frisch said the point isn’t to propose ideas to the public that “don’t have a pipe dream of ever happening.” Instead, a narrowly focused outreach campaign should solicit realistic feedback.

But there were already questions of what’s realistic, as Councilman Dwayne Romero, a developer, balked at some of the proposed densities listed next to some of the parcels on the staff memo. The Park Circle property, for example, lists 20 units for the single-family home-sized lot.

“I like it when the private sector tries to stay realistic, and I like it when the public sector stays realistic,” Romero said.

Assistant City Manager Barry Crook defended the numbers, saying he was “just trying to be efficient.”

After Romero called the proposed densities “wildly optimistic,” Frisch suggested that perhaps they’re not due to the limited availability of developable land for affordable housing within the city.

“I have a bias for more density — there’s demand for it,” Frisch said. “And we need to be realistic about the amount of space we have in the next 50 years. We need to pack these (affordable-housing developments) in an appropriate way.”

What the city considers appropriate also is up for debate, with Frisch noting perceived inaccuracies in the worker-bed estimates for the proposed projects. He said the staff’s estimate that a three-bedroom unit houses three workers, for example, isn’t likely the case because children would occupy bedrooms in many of those units.

“Do occupancy and affordable-housing guidelines need to be updated? Yes,” said Chris Everson, affordable housing project manager.

That discussion isn’t expected to happen immediately, however. Romero chimed in that at least the council can agree on one immediate thing: “We’re going to make a dent into the (affordable-housing) shortfall we have.”

None of the projects are currently in the 2015 capital budget, but Romero said the council can use this targeted feedback from the public “to accelerate a project or two here in the short run.”


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