City moves ahead on Burlingame | AspenTimes.com

City moves ahead on Burlingame

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

If we build it, they will come.

That appears to be the majority viewpoint on the Aspen City Council, which debated the need for additional employee housing in general and the first phase of Burlingame Ranch in particular on Monday.

“Is it possible to have too much employee housing?” Councilman Tony Hershey asked. The question framed a discussion on how quickly the city should move forward with future housing projects in light of a slowed economy and a current glut of rental units in town.

The city is moving forward with plans for a 40-unit project of sale units, to be constructed next to the Aspen Business Center, as well as the first phase of Burlingame Ranch, the controversial 330-unit development north of the Maroon Creek Club and west of Maroon Creek.

An engineering company is under contract to provide the city with a firm estimate to build the infrastructure for Burlingame Ranch. That number is due by the end of the year, with construction of the road and utilities to the site tentatively slated to begin in 2003.

Actual housing construction at Burlingame Ranch is not likely to begin before 2004 at the earliest, according to Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

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The first phase will include the construction and sale of 75 deed-restricted units and the sale of 35 lots for roughly $150,000 apiece, for 110 homes. The cost of building phase one, plus the infrastructure for all 330 units, will total an estimated $30 million, Sadler said. Revenue from the sale of the units and lots would pare the cost to the city to about $13 million.

Councilman Terry Paulson questioned whether the housing market is strong enough right now to move forward with 110 homes at Burlingame Ranch.

“I really question 110 units. I’m just wondering if we could reconsider ? maybe build 50,” he said.

“One hundred and 10 units, to me, doesn’t seem too much,” countered Councilman Tom McCabe. “You’re right, this is not a boom climate ? but we’re not going forward without paying attention.”

@ATD Sub heds:Fewer workers?

@ATD body copy: Earlier this year, the council set a goal of trying to house 55 percent of the local work force through public and private housing projects. That translated to 643 additional units, based on employment data at the time.

Now, however, there are signs that employment has dropped. The city’s two seasonal housing projects, available for the influx of winter workers, are not yet full. That’s never happened before.

“The occupation of those places is an absolute reflection of the job market,” McCabe said. “Obviously, the town’s not jumping.”

Free-market rental units aren’t filling up either, spurring complaints from property owners, according to Paulson.

“Why are you flooding the market? I’ve gotten some of those calls,” he said.

Free-market apartments are empty because they’re too expensive, Hershey responded, suggesting it’s not the city’s duty to help keep free-market rental rates “unrealistically high.”

“If the free market is not affordable, then the free market has to change its price,” McCabe agreed.

“I don’t believe, however, that it’s our role to compete with the free market with the goal of driving free-market prices down,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “That may happen, but I don’t think it should be a goal.”

The city’s 99 new units of deed-restricted rental housing at Truscott Place may have eased demand, said Councilman Tim Semrau. But he questioned whether the city should revise its long-term housing goals based on today’s economy.

“I think it does raise a timing issue,” said Klanderud, suggesting the city update its employment data to see if work force numbers are down substantially.

Even if employment has dropped 10 or 15 percent, the city’s housing goal would still translate to more than 500 units, Semrau said.

And the demand for sale units appears unabated, even if the rental market is satiated, added City Manager Steve Barwick.

“This winter will tell us a lot,” he said. “If employment really is down this winter, we can adjust our plans.”

Hershey advocated moving ahead with the first phase of Burlingame Ranch, given the apparently unrelenting demand for sale units and the amount of time it takes to get something built.

“We’re not going to lose 50 percent of the jobs here,” he said. “And housing is not like grass ? you plant it and it’s there the next year.”

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