Burlingame explanation | AspenTimes.com

Burlingame explanation

Dear Editor:

As an Aspen City Council member in 2005, as an advocate for affordable housing and for the Burlingame Village project, I would like to offer my deepest regrets and take my share of the responsibility for the mistakes made by the city related to the publication of a pamphlet with erroneous subsidy costs for Burlingame.

As best as I can pinpoint the mistakes made, the cost estimate proforma released by the city in the spring of 2005 fall into three areas of factual omissions. First, the proforma numbers did not include a clear statement that changes to the sales categories (lowering them) would increase the subsidy, or that future council decisions to upgrade Burlingame to increase energy efficiency and use of sustainable building materials would increase total cost.

Secondly, the released proforma numbers did not clearly state that the construction subsidy was based on 2005 estimates, and that building the project in phases rather than contracting to build all 236 units at once would subject future phases of construction to undeterminable price inflation.

Thirdly, the released proforma numbers did not clearly state that the ‘soft cost’ of the design work, the original remaining land price and the cost of the infrastructure needed for home construction was not included.

The City Council was aware of these costs, both as estimates and after hard bids were selected. City Council did review these cost and enter into contracts for these cost at public meetings. I believe excluding those cost components in the Burlingame informational pamphlet was an attempt by staff in 2005, however misguided, to create a picture of hard construction cost only because there were no easy comparisons available for the same soft cost (land and design) needed to develop an alternative 236 housing units on hypothetical scattered sites elsewhere.

The inconsistency between the full potential costs discussed at public meetings and in city memos over a lengthy process; and those released in the Burlingame pamphlet was a grave mistake. It is also unfortunate that the housing program and the 2008 council have been bearing the brunt of the anger over the failures made by the city council in 2005 when we as a group, did not catch and stop the dissemination of material that was an inconsistent and inaccurate reflection of the total project cost. For my part in not preventing this, I offer sincere apologies to my colleagues at the time, the community, the current mayor and council, Burlingame foes and supporters, and the Burlingame residents.

During the ’05 campaign for Burlingame, I focused on the land use and philosophical issues surrounding the project. Did we need that much housing? Was it too far from town? How would it impact schools, employers, community character, and so on? I wrote letters with my position on these aspects, and simply put, did not focus as I should have on the pamphlet printed by the city. While it does nothing to lessen the error of the city pamphlet, I have reviewed my letters and the widely distributed campaign material from both the HOPE group (Housing Our People Environmentally) and the Zoline family, and reconfirmed that neither emphasized the project subsidy numbers as the reason to vote yes. Those materials heavily focused on Burlingame as the appropriate location for housing, the need for and benefit of housing, and the long-term health and sustainability of Aspen.

While there is now much work to be done to rebuild trust in the housing program because of council and staff mistakes in 2005, I believe that it is important to note that the housing crisis is still with us, that the value of having a diverse year-round resident community and a local workforce remains, and that Aspen employers and those committed community members, friends, neighbors and co-workers still seeking permanent housing should not be penalized by discontinuing the housing ownership program.

Burlingame is still a great location and is growing into a great neighborhood. It is still our best shot at family-style housing opportunities, the creation of new units in a timely manner and that it ultimately will be as affordable if not more affordable to build to its potential of an additional 150 units as would any other alternative housing locations.

I think that the choices that have been made in public meetings and of public record to increase the energy efficiency, quality and livability of Burlingame, and to lower the sales prices to reach more middle- and lower-wage workers were good ones, and should advance to future phases.

Moving forward, I support the current city councils decision for an independent review of Burlingame’s history. I welcome their creation of a resident financial oversight task force to look at and vet cost estimates. And I believe that restoring the role of the Housing Office and its board to review the accuracy and fiscal responsibility of housing development should be considered. I welcome additional thoughts, suggestions and all the energy and skill that our residents can apply to improving the process and reducing cost while providing quality affordable housing.

It is my greatest hope that through the hard work of our current council, our residents and our community’s combined efforts, the longtime vision for, and the faith, in our housing efforts can be fully restored.

Rachel E. Richards