Basalt housing project on table |

Basalt housing project on table

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

While many developers in the Roaring Fork Valley gripe about being forced to build employee housing, one in Basalt is proposing a project that would be 100 percent affordable rental units.

Ronda Weybright, a principal partner in RealAmerica Development LLC, wants to build 56 upscale apartment units on Emma Road, just east, or upvalley, of Stubbies bar. She told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night that she has a contract to purchase property once envisioned as a hotel.

The property at 111 Emma Road in Basalt already has town-government approvals for a hotel. However, the proposed Snow River Lodge project never got above ground. The Chicago-based ownership group completed a concrete foundation and then went dormant during the Great Recession. The project has been for sale for a couple of years. The site is highly visible from Highway 82. The exposed foundation is surrounded by fencing covered in green masking material. Doug Allen, the managing owner of the adjacent commercial property, told the Basalt Town Council he is excited about the prospect of the property being purchased and completed. Allen said he is “sick of seeing that property sitting there and accumulating trash.”

Weybright said her apartment building would use the same building envelope and retain the exterior design of the lodge. She would alter the interior to accommodate 49 one-bedroom apartments as large as 668 square feet each and seven two-bedroom apartments as large as 955 square feet. She is proposing to rent the units within the town’s affordable-housing guidelines.

“What’s made this project so interesting to us is the location,” Weybright said. Residents would have easy access to bus service on Highway 82. Retail shops and restaurants are closer than a block away. The apartments would have patios or balconies, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor community space and additional storage.

“In general, the amenities at the site will be superior to most of the competition and will enable the site to be perceived as very marketable in the Basalt area,” said information submitted to the town by Weybright.

RealAmerica Development is an Indianapolis-based firm that focuses on developing, constructing and managing affordable-housing projects, Weybright said. She encouraged the town government to check into her firm’s performance.

In her presentation to the Town Council, she touted her project as an “affordable-housing bank.” Other developers facing affordable-housing requirements for free-market projects in the town would be able to contribute to the project to get credit for the units, she said. That way, her firm would raise capital to help build the project, other developers would have a convenient way to tackle their affordable-housing requirements, and the community would gain affordable rental units. For example, the apartment complex could be a receiving site for units that must be removed from the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park as part of a redevelopment.

While the demand for affordable housing might have eased during the heart of the recession, Weybright said the shortage is returning.

“When you go to Stubbies or out to dinner, you can’t help but hear about affordable housing,” she said.

It required extensive negotiations to place the Snow River Lodge property under contract for purchase, Weybright said. She has time to test the waters to see if her proposal will float with the council, but eventually she will have to spend considerable money to keep the site in her control, she said.

The five members of the Town Council attending Tuesday’s meeting lavished praise on the concept.

“We’re trying to steer clear of ‘awesome’ or ‘miracle’ or anything like that,” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said.

“It sounds great,” Councilman Glenn Rappaport said.

The council approved a pre-development agreement, which lays out the responsibilities of both parties but doesn’t formally trigger a review. Weybright will work with the town staff on her proposal.