Burlingame cost estimate jumps way up | AspenTimes.com

Burlingame cost estimate jumps way up

Sarah S. Chung

The estimated government subsidy to build affordable housing at Burlingame Ranch has more than quadrupled – to $6.75 million – according to new estimates presented to the Housing Board Wednesday.

The recrunched budget projections have hiked the subsidy level for the controversial project by $5.3 million, up from the initial estimate of $1.45 million to the new $6.75 million total.

But Housing Board members say it’s too early to fret over the massive hike in anticipated costs.

Elevated construction expenses account for the new estimate, but with actual bidding on the project still months away, the changing numbers shouldn’t trigger alarm, according to Housing Authority staffers.

“This is just part of the process. These are working numbers … nothing is set in stone,” said Lee Novak, Housing Authority project manager. “These estimates are based on better information than we had last week and will probably change again. At this stage, it’s all a work in progress.”

Housing Board members were given the revised subsidy estimates on Tuesday. They were silent on the new numbers at yesterday’s meeting.

Contacted after the meeting, members voiced the general consensus that it’s too early to “put the numbers under a microscope.”

“It’s a process. Right now the plug numbers are larger than they were before,” said Frank Peters, board chairman. “I’m not interested in dissecting preliminary numbers, I’m interested in doing a good job planning. Early projections can sometimes be off and some changes can surprise you.”

According to board member Jackie Kasabach, it is jumping the gun to worry about a $5.3 million revision in the needed subsidy. And, she added, too much discussion could kill the project altogether.

“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t pay any attention to estimates until the final construction bids come in,” Kasabach said. “I think the real danger is in nitpicking Burlingame to death just like Snyder. We spent years trying to please everyone, spent two or three years talking to all the neighbors, and meanwhile the real estate market blew us out of the water. It had nothing to do with wrong planning projections, we just talked Snyder to death.”

But, project manager Novak conceded that the experience with Snyder has made Housing Authority staffers more conservative with their construction cost projections.

Construction of the Snyder housing project on the east side halted when construction bids came in more than $1 million over budget.

For Burlingame, the Housing Authority has bumped up the estimated cost to build the project from $85 to $100 per square foot to a range of $140 to $148 per square foot.

But the revised government subsidy for the project – the costs not covered by sale of the units – is nothing to “get tense” about at this point, Novak said.

“It’s important to keep the public informed with the best information as it becomes available,” Novak said. “And these are the best numbers we have right now, but it’s important to remember that the final number of units, the mix of housing, category levels haven’t been determined yet.”

Burlingame is a 232-unit proposal for a tract of land between the Maroon Creek Club and Aspen Airport Business Center. A partnership of landowners, including the city of Aspen, the Zoline family and the Aspen Valley Land Trust, have been working on a plan for affordable housing, open space and ranching activities on the property.

The Housing Authority’s original subsidy projections recently came under fire from private developers, contacted by The Aspen Times, who said the authority was vastly underestimating its costs for the project.

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