Basalt retirement project gets initial nod from Town Council

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

BASALT – The Basalt Town Council made a major concession to the developer of a proposed retirement community Tuesday night by waiving the majority of affordable-housing requirements.

The council voted, 7-0, to waive requirements for 48 affordable-housing units that the Aspen Valley Foundation would be required to build under a strict interpretation of the town code.

In return, the foundation will build one unit or provide $260,000 cash in lieu of housing to the town, and it will waive the substantial entry fee anticipated at its project on 12 of the free-market units.

However, the council left itself some wiggle room to alter the formula. Instead of requiring the Aspen Valley Foundation to waive the entry fee on 12 units, the town government might let it charge the fee and pass those funds to the town for its affordable-housing program.

The Aspen Valley Foundation is proposing a phased project with 148 units for seniors. Different units would have varying amounts of medical care associated with them in the Continuing Care and Retirement Community. Some would be independent-living units; others would include skilled nursing care.

The project is proposed in the Southside neighborhood, near Basalt High School. The site requires annexation into the town boundaries.

All seven Basalt Town Council members said they see the project as a great benefit to the town. The major issue to emerge was the affordable-housing requirement. The council agreed to waive a requirement for the foundation to build 39 units required for annexation. The town code allows a waiver for nonprofit organizations, so that concession spurred little debate.

The town code would require the foundation to build another 10 affordable housing units because the project will generate an estimated 88 jobs. However, the Aspen Valley Foundation proposed waiving its entry fee on 12 of its 148 free-market units to meet the commitment. The town staff advised the council to accept the proposal.

The idea split the council. Councilman Rick Stevens said there are still many unemployed people in the Roaring Fork Valley even as the recession has eased. The retirement community will create desperately needed jobs, he said, and he doesn’t want to “burden” the foundation with affordable housing requirements.

Councilman Glenn Rappaport agreed that the project shouldn’t be “saddled” with expenses that will drive up costs.

Councilwoman Karin Teague countered that the council was being asked to make a concession on affordable housing without knowing the amount of the entry fee and whether the project will be affordable for average Basalt residents.

“I find myself working in a vacuum here,” Teague said. She added that a lot of Basalt residents have questions about the affordability of the Continuing Care and Retirement Community. She said she is among the people who “still don’t have a sense of who the community is going to serve.”

Teague urged the Aspen Valley Foundation’s planning team to add more affordable housing units to the plan. Councilman Rob Leavitt concurred. He said it is a perfect site for a handful of housing units for public sector workers, such as nurses or teachers.

Leavitt agreed with Stevens and Rappaport that there is currently high unemployment in the Roaring Fork Valley, but that will change.

“In four, five, 10 years, that’s not going to be the case,” he said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt raised the prospect that the town government might want to allow Aspen Valley Foundation to charge the entry fee on the 12 units but require that money to be passed on to the town government for its affordable-housing program.

That could be a windfall for the town. For example, if the entry fee was $500,000 per unit, hypothetically, at the Continuing Care and Retirement Community, the town could reap $6 million in proceeds from the 12 units subject to discussion. Those funds could be used for affordable-housing projects.

The council granted the first of two approvals Tuesday to the project. The exact formula for the housing requirement will be worked out before the second and final stage of review.


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