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Burlingame faces delay

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With a couple of undisclosed, new opportunities for affordable housing in play, Aspen City Council members declined Tuesday to direct staffers to move forward on the first phase of Burlingame Ranch.

Instead, council members called for a Sept. 9 meeting to discuss the city’s larger housing picture, both in terms of its priorities and its ability to finance various projects, before advertising for contractors to install the infrastructure to serve Burlingame.

Even so, it appears unlikely the installation of a road and utilities to serve the project will begin before next spring, which, in all likelihood, means construction of housing won’t occur before 2005.

“In other words, we can’t get started till a year from May?” asked Councilman Tim Semrau.

“It would cause a serious delay,” confirmed Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

Voters endorsed the project in 2001.

The infrastructure alone is expected to cost some $8 million. The city had planned to begin the work this summer, so phase one of the housing – the first 110 of a potential 330 units – could begin next spring. A dispute over aligning the road to the housing site, located west of town, delayed this summer’s anticipated start.

“We are ready to go at this point,” Sadler said. “Now that it’s so late, you may want to do it in the spring.”

Meanwhile, the city could conduct a competition this winter to select a team to design the 330 units and build the first phase, he said.

“Since there may be some other opportunities at this time, is this a bit premature?” asked Mayor Helen Klanderud.

The council met at length behind closed doors yesterday; some of those talks may affect the city’s future plans for providing additional worker housing, she hinted.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards urged her colleagues to hold next month’s broader discussion and decide which among the city’s potential housing projects are truly worth pursuing. No one suggested the controversial Burlingame wouldn’t be among them.

“I think we need to look at what assets are in our housing inventory that need to be liquidated,” Richards said.

Aspen Mass, purchased jointly by the city and county but taken off the table for housing, ought to be sold, she argued. The parcel, near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, has been pegged as a parking site. An upper-valley transportation fund ought to buy the parcel, so the city can get its housing dollars back out of it, Richards said.

The city needs to get its $3 million in housing funds out of the Zupancis parcel on Main Street, as well, she added. The city purchased the property last year and has offered to sell it to the Aspen Fire Protection District for a new station.

Unless the city is serious about a small housing project on a lot it owns off Rio Grande Place, it should remove that project from its long-range housing plans, as well, Richards said.

“There are a few moving pieces that we could probably land,” Semrau agreed. “Aspen Mass, Zupancis, a possible future purchase, a possible future buy-down – those are four large variables.”

A “buy-down” is the purchase of free-market units that are then deed-restricted as worker housing.

“Part of the problem in housing is cash flow,” said City Manager Steve Barwick.

The city cannot borrow money to build a project in one fiscal year and repay it in another without going to the voters for permission. To avoid a vote, money would have to be borrowed and repaid from the sale of the units within the same year, he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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