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Burlingame: Old Aspen vs. new?

The fight over the Burlingame affordable housing project boils down to “old Aspen versus new Aspen” in the minds of some of the project’s foes.The city government’s controversial 236-unit proposal rubs many old-timers the wrong way because it represents “a radical departure” from the traditional way of adding affordable housing, according to Bill Stirling, a former mayor of Aspen.Instead of adding affordable housing in small, steady increments that maintain balance with other development, the city wants to plop a gigantic village into an open field, Stirling said. That adds too much in too short of a time.Stirling believes some people who have fought in the past to preserve the small-town character of Aspen have abandoned their principles in the name of affordable housing. They are willing to compromise slow growth in a style that’s in “harmony” with the town and its history for the sake of Burlingame.Others, like himself, don’t see affordable housing as a sacred cow.”There’s one group that’s still trying in its very best way – without being ostriches – to preserve the old Aspen that drew us all here,” Stirling said.Old allies, new foesFrank Peters can legitimately be considered old Aspen. He’s been in the Roaring Fork Valley for 33 years, living alone in a shack in Lenado for the first 10 and in Aspen for the last 23.Peters served on the Aspen City Council with Stirling for a few years starting in 1989. They were political allies on most issues and teamed to survive a nasty recall effort.Despite their shared history, they couldn’t be further apart when it comes to Burlingame. Peters said the idea that Burlingame goes against the grain of “old Aspen” is nothing more than another divisive ploy used by Burlingame foes.He wonders why people who are now concerned about community character were silent when large projects like Aspen Highlands Village, the Maroon Creek Club and others were reviewed.He also disputed Stirling’s claim that affordable housing has never been added in chunks. Centennial and Hunter Creek added scores of units at one time.Peters further contended that affordable housing is where “old Aspen” is being preserved. Go to Williams Woods, he suggested, and you can see kayaks, bicycles and skis outside the homes of people working a couple of jobs so they can scrape by while satisfying their love of the great outdoors.In a perfect world, Peters conceded, the town wouldn’t have to build affordable housing projects like Burlingame. But in a resort where there is “global competition” for limited real estate, the workers don’t stand a chance of acquiring homes. High demand and limited supply “eradicated” housing for workers.”Affordable housing is the tab we pay for having growth restrictions in place,” he said.Peters gets perturbed at the suggestion that he, as a proponent of Burlingame, isn’t concerned about the town’s character.”I took bullets for growth control. I was targeted for recall,” Peters said. “If somebody wants to say I’ve gone over to the dark side, that’s pretty ridiculous.”Survival of the fittestLike Peters, Nick DeWolf has lived in town for 33 years. Unlike Peters he doesn’t believe it’s healthy to supply subsidized housing for such a large number of people.”I’m snobbish,” DeWolf admits. He likes it when there are intelligent, overqualified people with masters degrees waiting tables at a restaurant. Aspen has always attracted people who sacrificed to stick around.DeWolf said that time-honored system where people figure out a way to stay because of their love for Aspen worked well to create an interesting populace. It was Aspen’s twist on Darwin’s survival of the fittest.Adding 236 units at Burlingame is too much of a concession to “ordinary” folk and a way of doing things that fits Aurora or Cleveland as easily as Aspen, he said. If Burlingame is built, the housing authority will use a lottery to select who gets to buy a housing unit.”I believe in survival of the fittest and the fittest aren’t those that won a lottery,” DeWolf said.He contended that Burlingame does go against the ideals of old Aspen. But DeWolf said it isn’t just old-timers who have the old Aspen ideal. There are many people who have lived here for just a few years who also want to preserve the character. So “old Aspen” is as much a state of mind as longevity of living here.”A lot of us came because we wanted to live in a charming town where you knew everybody,” DeWolf said. “I would say I would have been against Burlingame if I had been here for 10 minutes.”DeWolf, an inventor and computer geek, stressed that he isn’t against change. He’s against the “wrong” kind of change.Mark Harvey’s family has been in Aspen since 1957. To him, the old Aspen is best represented as a place where mansions sat next to miner’s shacks. He said he understands the Burlingame supporters believe they are replicating the feel of old Aspen – a town where people of all types mingled together. But he fears they are really “unwittingly” creating a situation where the working class is forever segregated by creating such a large village of affordable housing.”To me it’s almost institutionalizing the separation of the classes,” Harvey said.Burlingame preserves sliver of old characterPitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis proudly carries the banner of old Aspen and relishes memories of Aspen’s character in those bygone days. “Aspen will never be what it was in the 1960s and ’70s,” he said.But to him, Burlingame represents the best chance to preserve a sliver of that character.The loss of affordable housing and the growing popularity of Aspen as a playground for the rich and famous has changed the feel of the town tremendously. As Braudis put it, “there are fewer people rolling up their sleeves.”The middle class was chased downvalley by exorbitant real estate prices. Numerous free-market apartment buildings were demolished and replaced by large single-family homes, reshaping neighborhoods throughout the east end of town.Braudis said he has no illusion of recapturing some of the old character by building a large affordable housing project. But adding Burlingame would ensure that many of the people who are vital to the health of the town will actually live in the town.”Aspen needs this,” he said.Without it, he sees Aspen becoming even more entrenched as an exclusive hangout for wealthy second-home owners and retirees.Pitkin County Commissioner and Burlingame supporter Mick Ireland has circulated census data during the campaign that shows the number of Aspen’s “20-somethings” has dropped from 2,541 in 1990 to 2,489 in 2000 and fallen even more sharply in the last five years.Meanwhile the number of Aspenites in their 50s and 60s has dramatically increased. There were 1,016 residents in their 50s in 1990. Now there are 2,994, according to Ireland’s data.The number of people in their 60s leapt from 876 in 1990 to 2,120 this year.The change is character has already occurred, Braudis said. Burlingame presents an opportunity to restore some of the old flavor.”The character of Aspen is on the ballot in the form of housing,” Braudis said. “It’s going to say something right now about character if this thing is defeated.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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