Basalt lets Willits developers delay employee housing
The Basalt government hopes to give the biggest development in the town’s history a marketing boost by delaying a deadline for the construction of employee housing.The Basalt Town Council ruled last week that the developers of the massive Willits project can wait until they get further along in development before they must start providing housing for the employees their project will generate.Willits developers Michael Lipkin, Clay Crossland and Paul Adams must still provide housing for 167 employees – an amount equal to 20 percent of the 833 jobs expected to be generated by the commercial and residential core of the development.But the staff and council honored a request by the developers to give them more time before they must start building the affordable housing. The new deadline is tied to completion of a portion of the 456,000-square-foot project, rather than a specific date.The initial approvals for the project required the start of the employee housing earlier in the development process. The housing was going to be built in one-quarter increments as development progressed.The new plan allows it to be built in one-third increments, with a later start date. In a memo to the council, town planner Susan Philp said that helping the developers could help the town.”Staff is hopeful that approving this amendment will make it easier for the applicant to market development in the Willits Town Center, and that as a result the town will see that development and associated tax dollars sooner,” the staff memo says.The council approved the request 5-0 with virtually no discussion.A letter from the developers to the town pressed the point that no affordable housing is really necessary. The developers said that the amount and phasing of the affordable housing may have been viable five years when the economy was robust, but it isn’t realistic today.As proof, they claimed:• The local economy continues to be weak, especially the construction sector, which accounts for many jobs in the valley, and housing demand.• Aspen’s ongoing construction of deed-restricted housing is greater than current demand, making it even tougher to rent or sell deed-restricted housing downvalley.• Low interest rates make free-market homeownership more attainable.• The low end of the free-market rental housing is experiencing a “severe weakness.” The 64-unit Sopris View Apartment complex has experienced a 15 to 25 percent vacancy rate “over the past several years.” Adams and Crossland own those apartments.The developers’ letter said that financing is difficult to acquire for affordable housing in the midvalley, and that the extra expense of subsidizing housing drives up commercial and free-market housing prices at a time when that can least be afforded. Requiring affordable housing, they warned, could push the price of free-market housing at Willits into the second-home owner level.”At this time, mandating affordable housing is mandating second-home or retirement housing at the expense of housing the working middle class of the midvalley,” the developers’ letter says.While town officials concurred with the need to delay the deadline for starting construction of affordable housing, they didn’t advise waiving the requirement for affordable housing.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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