Burlingame opponents circulate petitions
Four years after Aspenites endorsed affordable housing at Burlingame Ranch, its opponents began circulating petitions Tuesday that could send the controversial project back to the ballot box.Though Aspen’s first snowfall of the season made the petitions slightly soggy, a handful of citizens set up outside the city’s post office to seek support for a pair of ordinances that would take Burlingame and, potentially, other future housing projects to voters.The first citizen to stroll by, a postal employee, declined to sign his name to either of the citizen initiatives, shouting: “I’m for Burlingame” as he walked away.The petition circulators have until Feb. 7 to collect 736 signatures on each petition from registered city voters. They collected roughly 40 yesterday.”Make Burlingame Accountable,” read the plastic-wrapped sign City Councilman Terry Paulson affixed to the table where the petitioners went to work.Burlingame, which could eventually include up to 330 units north of the Maroon Creek Club and east of Deer Hill, will have impacts on schools, traffic and the valley’s bus system that haven’t been addressed, Paulson contends.Others contend Burlingame is sprawl – located too far from central Aspen – and that it impinges on important mountain sagebrush and serviceberry habitat on Deer Hill.
The arguments against Burlingame aren’t new. They were voiced in the days and months leading up to an August 2000 public vote of endorsement for the housing project.In that election, voters supported a housing project without knowing the particulars, its opponents contend.”It was, ‘Do you want more housing?’ Everybody said, ‘Yeah, we want more housing.’ There were no facts,” said Paulson, who campaigned for Burlingame’s defeat in that election. “What we’re asking is that this be put to a vote with some actual facts and figures.”This is not an anti-Burlingame petition we’re putting out there.”But Bill Stirling, former Aspen mayor and a sponsor of the two initiatives, begs to differ. It’s not anti-affordable housing, but it is anti-Burlingame, he said at a press conference yesterday afternoon at City Hall.There’s a sense that community support for Burlingame has waned. A petition drive is a good way to find out, he said.The initiatives were brought forward by Joe Edwards and Dwight Shellman, two former Pitkin County commissioners who oppose the housing development.One of the proposed ordinances would force the city to withdraw from the preannexation agreement it has struck with the Zolines, neighboring ranch owners, for the Burlingame housing development and prevent the city from entering into such agreements in the future.
The other would prohibit the city from spending money on capital improvements for a housing project and granting annexation or land-use approvals for the housing until the costs of the project have been determined and approved by voters. It would apply to housing projects of more than 10 units, when the public subsidy for the units is $100,000 or more.”Both are what I would call good government ordinances,” Shellman said Tuesday.Early projections indicated the subsidy to construct Burlingame would range from $12 million to $25 million at build out, he noted. City staffers claim the project could break even; a pro forma for the first phase of roughly 110 units calls for construction costs of about $17 million, to be recouped through the sale of units and lots, according to Michelle Bonfils, city project manager.The city has already begun building a road and utilities to the Burlingame site at a cost of about $2 million – before plans for the housing are finalized. That move spurred the initiatives, Shellman said.Five design teams are scheduled to present their proposed plans for Burlingame to the public and the council next month.It’s not too late to pull the plug on the work that has been done, according to Stirling.”There may have been some discussion about sending the missiles out, but the red button has not yet been pushed,” he said.The infrastructure work that has been done isn’t necessarily a waste, Paulson contends. Aspen Valley Hospital, which at one time expressed interest in building a new facility before it ran into financial woes, could relocate to Burlingame and free up its campus, which is closer to Aspen, for housing. The hospital would have fewer impacts on the site, he contends.
Paulson questioned, though, whether the additional housing at Burlingame is necessary at all.”Some of us feel we’re already saturated with housing. I do,” he said.City Councilwoman Rachel Richards has pointed to ongoing demand for affordable units that become available and downvalley efforts to produce worker housing as evidence that Burlingame is needed.There were 72 applicants for a recent three-bedroom home at Five Trees, she noted.But roughly 62 percent of those bidders already reside in affordable housing, according to Stephanie Sullivan Soldner, who said she researched the participants in that particular housing lottery.”I’m not exactly sure what the city’s goal is,” she said. “Are we building housing just so people can move up in homes?”Soldner’s father owns adjacent property that will be impacted by Burlingame.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org