Burlingame backers rally housing troops

Janet Urquhart

A group of longtime Aspenites lashed out Thursday at the efforts of anti-Burlingame forces who want to put the controversial worker housing project back in front of voters at the eleventh hour.The housing advocates who gathered for a news conference at the Common Ground affordable housing complex alternately predicted Burlingame would again prevail if it is put to a vote and decried the impact on the community if the project doesn’t go forward.”If we lose this opportunity now, it’s not an opportunity that’s ever going to come again,” said Marcia Goshorn, a member of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board.The city is poised to begin construction of the first phase of Burlingame Ranch housing next spring, but circulators of a pair of petitions that could send the project back to the polls in May are slowly gaining signatures.The efforts to halt Burlingame smack of a slap in the face to local workers who want a chance to own housing in the community, said Rachel Richards, a city councilwoman and ardent supporter of the project.”It’s a very negative message and a hurtful message that is coming through from this petition drive,” she said.Area resident Jeremy Madden succinctly blasted the “elitist, wealthy, blue-haired snobs” who don’t believe Aspen’s working residents should live here.However, most members of the newly formed HOPE – House Our Population Environmentally – already have housing, noted Mick Ireland, a Pitkin County commissioner and homeowner at Common Ground. Burlingame isn’t for them, but for their friends, co-workers and the next generation of Aspenites.One can react two ways to Burlingame, he said: “Yes, I’ve got mine and I want to share that experience with someone else” or “Yes, I’ve got mine, go away, we don’t need anyone else.”The arguments, pro and con, regarding Burlingame have been made in one form or another since the city bought the land in 1997, proponents note. In fact, the two camps that coalesced over the issue haven’t changed much either – members of HOPE fought for Burlingame when it went to a vote four years ago, while many of those who are now circulating petitions pushed for its defeat.City voters endorsed a pre-annexation agreement that outlined the parameters for the housing in August 2000. Nothing has changed since then, HOPE members claim, except, perhaps, that the community has lost some more of its working residents to points downvalley.The latest petition drive threatens to dredge up the derisiveness of that election again, pitting neighbor against neighbor, Richards said.The petitions are being portrayed as “good government” initiatives by their authors, but one Burlingame supporter took exception to that characterization. One petition proposes an ordinance that would force the city to withdraw from the pre-annexation agreement it has struck with neighboring ranch owners for the Burlingame housing development and prevent the city from entering into such agreements in the future.The other would prohibit the city from spending money on capital improvements for housing projects of a certain size and granting annexation or land-use approvals for the housing until the costs of the project have been determined and approved by voters.”These are bad government initiatives masquerading as good government initiatives,” complained Frank Peters, a former city councilman and housing board member. One of them could force the city to default on an agreement, he said.Both are aimed at tying elected officials’ hands when it comes to affordable housing, Peters said.HOPE members also questioned the anti-Burlingame contingent’s attempt to paint themselves as environmentalists who are concerned about the loss of open land and the traffic impacts associated with the housing.Aspen Village, North 50, Lazy Glen and the Woody Creek Trailer Park are all worker housing enclaves located farther outside of town than Burlingame, Peters noted.”Which of those would you get rid of to mitigate a traffic impact?” he mused.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is