Aspen’s Centennial redevelopment remains on drawing board |

Aspen’s Centennial redevelopment remains on drawing board

Replacing 148 deed-restricted apartments and adding nearly 60 free-market condos at base of Smuggler still in planning stages

The green space between apartment buildings at Centennial Apartments would be maximized under a redevelopment proposal.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times archive

The potential for one of the largest and oldest deed-restricted apartment complexes in Aspen to be redeveloped with new units along with the addition of dozens of free-market condos remains a possibility, at least on paper.

The proposal to demolish 148 affordable housing units at the Centennial rental complex and replace them with deed-restricted apartments in perpetuity in exchange for building up to 59 free-market condos is still alive, project manager Jeff Solomon said.

He also is the owner’s representative for New Centennial, LLC, which is managed by Indiana-based Birge & Held, a national apartment owner, management and development firm that bought the Centennial rental complex in 2020 for nearly $51 million.

Solomon said Thursday he had planned to travel here this week to meet with city planners to discuss the latest drawings and ideas the design team has, based on feedback from Aspen City Council last fall.

Council expressed concern about displacing more than 250 current residents, as well as density on the 10.5-acre site and creating construction and demolition waste.

“We are trying to come up with ways to eliminate or alleviate the displacement and landfill issue,” Solomon said. “I think we will get there, it’s just taking a little longer than we expected, but that’s fine.”

His in-person meetings with city planners this month have been postponed due to the surge in COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County. He said he plans to come in February and present the latest drawings, which contemplate adding more onto the site to avoid displacement of current residents.

“We have progressed more on what makes sense and we’ve adjusted how we approach the development to deal with the displacement,” Solomon said. “I’m hoping with the conversations and collaboration with city staff, which have been great, we can file a land use application in the spring or summer.”

Jeff Solomon (left), director of acquisitions for Birge & Held, speaks with a nearby resident about redevelopment plans of Aspen’s Centennial Apartments during an open house Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Solomon was on hand, along with local land use consultant Chris Bendon, last summer during an open house explaining to tenants what their plans are and listening to their concerns.

In September, Solomon and Bendon went before council in a sketch plan review process that’s designed for both parties to determine if enough shared interest exists in pursuing a redevelopment of the property.

The process initiates a conversation without the parameters of a traditional land use application and allows for a non-binding conversation so the ownership team gets a sense of what officials think of their proposal.

Overall, council was supportive of the concept, with several caveats.

Elected officials’ support is partly knowing that the entire property will eventually become free-market, based on approvals and conditions placed on it from Pitkin County commissioners in the 1980s.

The deed restrictions on the apartments expire at the end of the 21st year after the death of the last member of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners who approved the development. That individual is Old Snowmass resident Michael Kinsley who is in his 70s.

The city of Aspen in 2019 was set to buy the deed restrictions for $10 million, but the deal fell through because the previous owner and the city could not agree to terms.

There are currently 41 studios; 48 one-bedrooms; 45 two-bedroom units; and 14 three-bedroom units at Centennial.

The existing complex is a total of 104,636 square feet with an average unit size of 707 square feet.

New Centennial LLC is proposing a denser parcel, so instead of less than 15 units per acre it would be 21 units per acre.

While the deed-restricted units would be replaced, the planned free-market rental condos would serve as the economic driver for the project.

As presented to council this past fall, the condos are planned to be 1,725 square feet each and would be predominantly three-bedroom units in buildings that are mostly three stories, but some would reach four stories in certain places.

The project would provide 375 parking spaces for residents and guests of the 207 units. Currently there are 231 parking spaces, and most residents there say it’s not enough.

Several tenants at Centennial have criticized the new owners for their plans and have pleaded with elected officials to protect their interests and the workforce who supports the resort community.

Solomon said he and his colleagues hear their concerns, along with those of council, and are taking sufficient time to address them.

“We want to make sure it’s a good fit,” he said. “We want to be a partner in the community.”

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