City defends secrecy on Burlingame
City of Aspen officials, who have come under fire for negotiating a housing development deal at Burlingame Ranch out of the public eye, defended the secrecy this week as a means to get the best deal possible for the public.
At Tuesday’s unveiling of a public/private development plan for Burlingame and the adjacent Zoline property, citizens criticized the secrecy surrounding the deal, which was hammered out between the city and Zoline family behind closed doors. Aspen resident Jamie Knowlton asked city officials what they were trying to hide.
No longer hidden are the details of the deal: 225 units of affordable housing on a piece of the city-owned Burlingame and 20 acres that the Zolines will give the city in exchange for the ability to build 12 free-market homes on their property. A conservation easement on 176 acres will protect the bulk of both Burlingame and the Zoline ranch from development.
City voters will be asked in an Aug. 8 election to approve a preannexation agreement that spells out the development plan.
Soon after the city purchased Burlingame Ranch in 1997, the city and the Zolines began discussing development possibilities for the 219 acres that comprise the two properties, located between the Aspen Airport Business Center and Maroon Creek Club. Most of the planning has taken place in public meetings, but as negotiations reached the nitty-gritty stage, the City Council shut the public out.
“The reason was not to keep the public in the dark,” said City Attorney John Worcester. “The reason for the closed sessions was to keep our partners in the dark. That’s the way you negotiate, you don’t just lay all your cards on the table.”
Councilman Tom McCabe said he believed it was his “duty to the public to protect their interest and bargain as best we can.
“I think the process has been exhaustive,” he added.
Currently, the 142-acre Zoline ranch lies in Pitkin County. The August ballot question will ask Aspen voters if the city should enter a preannexation agreement with the Zolines with the intent of annexing the family’s land to the city.
Following the election, the particulars of the development plan would still have to obtain a city land-use approval.
County Commissioner Mick Ireland said this week that he, for one, would be happy to see the Zoline ranch pulled into the city’s boundaries.
“This project presents the one of the last fading, small, minuscule opportunities for people who have contributed ten, twenty years to the community to own a house,” said Ireland of the proposed 225-unit Burlingame Village. “Not a condo, not an apartment, not being a caretaker on a plantation where you get kicked out every Christmas because someone’s niece is coming to town, but a real house.”
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