Burlingame slips on the priority list | AspenTimes.com

Burlingame slips on the priority list

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Affordable housing at Burlingame Ranch will take a back seat if other potential sites pan out by year’s end, a sharply divided Aspen City Council appeared to decide Tuesday.

Despite a campaign promise to heed the voters’ wishes on the housing project, Mayor Helen Klanderud said she could no longer support affordable housing on the open site west of town, siding with Councilman Terry Paulson’s call to abandon the development for the foreseeable future.

On the opposing side, council members Tim Semrau and Rachel Richards alternately termed any attempt to scrap the housing project “unethical” and “scandalous,” leaving freshman Councilman Torre to decide the project’s fate.

He took the middle ground, suggesting the city first pursue other housing options on the table that have not been made public. If they don’t come to fruition by January – when the city will be seeking bids for installation of the Burlingame infrastructure – Torre said he’d be willing to see the controversial project move forward.

“I’m not afraid of not breaking ground on Burlingame Village if other projects are available to get started on,” Torre said.

The council met yesterday to review a 10-year plan for affordable housing that offered financing scenarios to move forward with an estimated $138 million worth of projects over the next decade.

Klanderud finally brought up Burlingame, the “800-pound gorilla” looming in the background of every housing debate.

“There is definitely a philosophical division over this project on this council,” the mayor said. “I think we’re pussyfooting around it.”

Klanderud opposed Burlingame when it was put to the voters in August 2000, but said she’d follow the will of the voters when she campaigned for the mayor’s seat in 2001.

Last night, she revealed that she has changed her mind, voicing concerns about the project’s impact on open space, school crowding, highway traffic and a financially struggling bus system.

“A development there represents, in every sense of the word, sprawl,” Klanderud said. “As time has gone on and I’ve looked at that piece of property, I simply cannot do it.

“I’m in favor of building housing – parcels here, parcels there – I like the pace of that.”

If the preannexation agreement that outlined plans for Burlingame were put to voters today, it would not pass, predicted Paulson, who has fought the project since its conception.

But voters did approve it, and the agreement with the Zoline family, which owns the neighboring ranch, calls for the city to extend the infrastructure for both the affordable housing and 12 luxury homes on the Zoline parcel, Semrau noted. The deal also designates 47 affordable units in the city’s project – some 150 bedrooms, according to Semrau – as the mitigation for the free-market homes. The city is on the line for those elements no matter what, Semrau said, estimating their cost at $20 million.

“At this point, I don’t see any reason to reject what the voters said and take a $20 million loss,” he said, calling the move “unethical.”

“It would be, I think, scandalous for this community to pull the plug now,” said Richards, who fought hard to see the preannexation agreement win at the polls.

She charged Klanderud with breaking a campaign promise made during a televised mayoral debate two years ago, shortly before Klanderud unseated Richards in a close runoff.

“You said, `I will not kill the Burlingame project.’ With a 49-vote margin, I think that was an important statement for you to be making on the air,” Richards said.

In 1996, the Aspen Area Community Plan identified the Burlingame site for housing, Richards added, along with other sites that have since disappeared.

“We’ll be lucky to have a key turning in a door in 2005,” she said.

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

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