Bass Park: Here the city must take a stand on housing |

Bass Park: Here the city must take a stand on housing

The Aspen Times Editorial

Bass Park.

Already, battle lines are being drawn over this 18,000-square-foot parcel of land in the middle of Aspen.

Purchased by the city for $3.5 million, this small pocket park has long been a tiny jewel of green fenced in by condos and hotels, concrete and commercial buildings. It’s a place where two guys could while away a couple of hours playing horseshoes or a woman on a break from work could sit quietly and read a book.

But today, it is the latest pawn in an increasingly hostile chess match between open space advocates and those who feel the city’s highest priority should be the creation of affordable housing for local workers.

This is not a productive standoff. It is time to take stock of our situation, and get serious about our priorities.

Bass Park is a nice little park, it cannot be denied.

But Aspen is in the middle of a housing crisis, and Bass Park offers much more as a housing site than it does as a park. Furthermore, it must be noted that there are two large, wonderful parks – Wagner Park and Paepcke Park – within a block in either direction of Bass Park.

When the city was preparing to buy the park, officials asked a committee of knowledgeable and involved locals to sit down and come up with some proposals for using this land. And although the group’s only concrete recommendation was that the city should buy the land using money from the housing fund, there was a strong feeling in favor of using the entire parcel for affordable housing.

This makes a great deal of sense.

This parcel is virtually in the commercial core of Aspen, which is exactly where we should be putting high-density affordable housing. With this in mind, city officials are apparently leaning toward putting housing on the park; but they are talking about using only a small portion of the park – perhaps one-third – for housing. This would be a serious mistake. The city must not follow the unfortunate precedent of the Snyder housing project, in which only a small portion of a large, expensive piece of land will be used for housing. The result, at Snyder, is that the housing units will be too few to make any real impact on the housing shortage and too expensive for most who need housing (or, they will require too high a public subsidy if the price is to be kept reasonable).

Now is the time – and this is the place – for the city to decide if it is really serious about solving its affordable housing crisis. Bass Park should be dedicated 100 percent to affordable housing. Certainly, 30 to 40 units – or more – could be built on that site. It is the right site: close enough to the heart of the city that residents could walk to work, mostly surrounded by commercial buildings. Yes, there are some neighbors who would likely complain, but the time has come for the city to take a stand and make its intentions clear.

If the city uses all of the park for housing, it will be an indication that it is indeed trying to solve its housing problem. (And, make no mistake about it, the housing problem is Aspen’s problem – not Pitkin County’s, not Basalt’s, not Carbondale’s. It is Aspen’s problem and Aspen must solve it.)

If, on the other hand, the city caves in to objections from neighbors – or from supporters of open space – and builds a pathetic handful of units on this site, that will also be an indication … an indication that the city government has no real interest in actually solving the most serious problem facing this community.

It should be noted that some officials favor asking the voters to decide this issue next November. This, too, would be a serious mistake. For one thing, it would delay an important project (and delays result in higher costs). For another, it would turn this issue into a divisive electoral battle, opening the potential for “class warfare” as wealthy opponents fight against working-class residents. And, finally, calling for an election would be, in itself, an indication that the city lacks courage and conviction and is unwilling to simply do what must be done to deal with a genuine crisis.

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