Burlingame housing a go | AspenTimes.com

Burlingame housing a go

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

After emotional pleas from a standing room-only audience, the Aspen City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to move forward with the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing project.

The council directed city staffers to begin seeking bids in January for installation of utilities and a road to the housing site. That work will cost an estimated $8.5 million.

For more than two hours, the council heard overwhelming support for the project from citizens. Parents, some holding infants or toddlers, described their frustration in securing housing so they can remain members of the community.

Other 30-something adults said they’d like to start families, but are stuck in small apartments and fear they won’t have a chance to own a home with room for children.

Roger and Sara Haneman reside in a one-bedroom apartment with their newborn daughter. The bedroom for all three of them is an attic space.

“We need [Burlingame], and we need it now, not later,” Sara said. “You’ll lose us if we don’t have housing.”

Eric Cohen, who serves with Roger Haneman on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said he’ll be resigning from that board, as he and his wife, a local teacher, are preparing to join other former Aspenites who have moved to Basalt.

“There is nothing here that we can live in comfortably and raise a family,” Cohen said.

While most in the crowd urged the council to move forward with Burlingame ” up to 330 units on a site west of town ” some criticized the size of the development and decried the project as urban sprawl. Others expressed concern about its impacts on wildlife and open space, or questioned the need for that much additional worker housing.

Jan Collins asked what would become of taxpayer-subsidized rental housing as buyers at Burlingame move out of those units. The rental market is already soft, with apartments sitting empty, she noted.

“You’re talking about jamming 1,500 people at the edge of town,” complained longtime resident Pepper Gomes.

But others said Aspen is in danger of losing its sense of community ” a consideration that overrides the drawbacks to Burlingame.

“It’s not perfect. There’s no place that’s perfect to build 250 houses,” said bike shop owner Charlie Tarver. “It’s the best place we have.”

Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Terry Paulson both opposed the development, while council members Rachel Richards, Tim Semrau and Torre all voted to proceed.

The reason to build the housing became “abundantly clear” at last night’s hearing, Semrau said.

“This is really about the lifeblood of this community,” he said.

Klanderud acknowledged she was taking an unpopular stance, but said she favored smaller projects that would be more in character with Aspen.

The Burlingame site is open land that is not served by utilities and roads, she noted. “That, to me, is sprawl,” she said.

Torre, considered the swing vote, called the decision a difficult one.

“I think that not doing it would be more detrimental than doing this project,” he said.

“We’re going to be building and buying permanent community members,” Richards said. “This is an investment in ourselves.”

Klanderud, sensing she would be outvoted, vowed to make the best of Burlingame.

“I am going to make certain it is absolutely the best project this community has ever built,” she said.

The council continued last night’s meeting to Monday, Dec. 15, when it will discuss a citizen task force’s recommendations on the bedroom mix and price categories for the Burlingame housing. In previous discussions, the council has indicated it will build the project in phases, as demand warrants.

A first phase of 110 units has been the expectation, but council members said yesterday they want further debate on whether that’s the right amount for the initial phase.

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

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