AVLT offers a new plan for
March 27, 2002
A coalition of conservationists wants Aspen to rework its plan for Burlingame and build the affordable housing village in a more environmentally friendly way.The coalition, headed by the Aspen Valley Land Trust, contends that the Deer Hill area has “ecological significance” that would be trashed by Burlingame, as now proposed.AVLT and its partners contend that their alternative plan would relocate the affordable housing where effects on wildlife would be reduced or offset. They want to reconfigure Burlingame to preserve a larger chunk of open space and keep that open space connected to a series of adjacent properties that are also preserved. It would create what AVLT has dubbed the “Deer Hill Wildlife Preserve.””This is not just AVLT’s idea,” said AVLT Executive Director Reid Haughey. “This is being brought to us by our constituents.”The coalition claimed that their proposal would still allow the city to build a “sizable” affordable housing project. Although the size isn’t defined in the written proposal, Haughey said he didn’t believe it would reduce the affordable housing project. The proponents hope city officials embrace the proposal as a way to meld the need for affordable housing with the desire to preserve the environment. “The city said, ‘We want to create the best housing project,'” said Michael McVoy, president of the AVLT board of directors. “We took them at their word.” The Aspen City Council has met twice in closed sessions to discuss the alternative Burlingame proposal, once with AVLT officials. Councilman Tony Hershey said city officials haven’t been able to discuss the proposal yet with the Zolines, who are traveling in Italy. Hershey noted that the Zolines have control over whether or not the proposal advances. “If they don’t agree, I don’t see this going anywhere,” he said. Hershey, himself, has reservations. He doubts a conclusion in the study about wildlife significance of the area. He also doesn’t want the project delayed by consideration of this latest alternative. “It’s a little late in the game, but it’s not over,” said Hershey. “If it doesn’t delay our housing, I’m all for building the best possible project.” Councilman Tim Semrau agreed that the fate of the latest proposal is in the Zolines’ hands. He noted that the family spent four years working with city officials on their plan. They may not want to look at another proposal, especially one that wipes out their cattle-ranching operation. “If they’re not interested, there’s nothing the city can do,” he said. Like Hershey, Semrau said he isn’t completely sold that the AVLT plan is better. That would require some time to review. Mayor Helen Klanderud didn’t return a message seeking comment. City eyes 330-unit project The city wants to build up to 330 affordable housing units between the Roaring Fork River and Deer Hill. Deer Hill is the prominent knob located between the Aspen Airport Business Center and the Maroon Creek Club. The city proposal would push the affordable housing to the west, or AABC, side of the property. To achieve that goal, the city wants to acquire about 30 acres of land AVLT owns adjacent to Deer Hill. They also negotiated to acquire 22 acres from the Zolines. In return for the Zoline’s cooperation, the city agreed in a pre-annexation agreement to terms that are favorable to a free-market application by the Zolines for 12 single-family home sites on land adjacent to the Burlingame site. AVLT officials listened to the city’s pitch for a land swap and countered with their alternative. They said the city’s plan spreads the zone of disturbance over too vast of an area. Their proposal would cluster the affordable housing on the east end of the property, closer to mass transit and trails on Highway 82. McVoy contended that the site is also cheaper to develop because the utility infrastructure is closer. “Even though this location was previously considered and rejected as the approved housing site – presumably by the Zolines – recent acquisitions of permanently protected open space in the area and new opportunities for additional and immediately adjacent open space significantly alter the stakes and reveal a win/win opportunity whereby Deer Hill conservation and housing can coexist,” said AVLT’s written proposal. Nuts and bolts of plan The key parts of AVLT’s plan are: Connie Harvey and her family would donate conservation easements on 50 acres along Maroon Creek on land connected to the Zolines’ ranch. The Harvey property would provide a bridge for deer and multiple other species of wildlife between Deer Hill and other lands owned and preserved by AVLT, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the city of Aspen. AVLT would donate its 30 acres to the city. The property would have a conservation easement that prohibits development except for one free-market unit. The property would be kept open for continued wildlife movement. Paul Soldner and his family would offer their 5 acres near the Burlingame site at a “bargain sale” price for creation of a nonprofit community arts facility. The affordable housing village would be relocated away from the AVLT property and the city-owned “Back Bowl” of Deer Hill, where wildlife tends to congregate. The village would be moved to a pie-shaped piece of land bounded by the Maroon Creek Club’s private golf course, Maroon Creek and Stage Road. Incentives for Zolines McVoy said AVLT’s coalition didn’t approach the Zolines about the proposal. They saw that as the city’s responsibility. He also acknowledged that the idea probably wouldn’t advance if city officials didn’t aggressively lobby for it with the Zolines. McVoy said the only way to entice cooperation from the Zolines may be to sweeten the development potential for them. Perhaps the city could agree to allow them to create another single-family home lot in return for endorsing the coalition’s proposal, he said. Councilman Hershey said he felt no obligation to sweeten the deal. Former Mayor Rachel Richards negotiated an agreement that was favorable to the Zolines, he said. Councilman Semrau re-negotiated to secure a better deal for the city. If the city must proceed under those terms, Hershey would be supportive. Haughey said he didn’t believe the new proposed location for the affordable housing would adversely affect the Zolines. In fact, creation of a wildlife preserve could be an added draw for lot buyers. “It has the potential to make the Zoline real estate at least as valuable if not more valuable,” he said. If the latest proposal isn’t accepted, the effects on the Burlingame project are uncertain. To make the current plan work most effectively, the city needs AVLT’s land. McVoy said he didn’t know how AVLT’s board would react if the alternative proposal doesn’t fly. “We haven’t defined what our fallback position is,” he said. The threat of litigation has also hung over Burlingame. Some city officials acknowledge they fear a costly and time-consuming lawsuit could delay the affordable housing project.