City OKs purchase of Main St. property | AspenTimes.com

City OKs purchase of Main St. property

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen will use housing money to buy a $3 million Main Street property, but the City Council agreed Monday the expenditure should not jeopardize its ability to build affordable housing.

The council voted unanimously to purchase the Zupancis property at 540 E. Main St., but set some restrictions on its use of money from its affordable housing fund to cover the price tag.

The housing fund will have an estimated $13 million in it at the end of the year; the city’s general fund doesn’t have a sufficient balance to cover the purchase, said City Manager Steve Barwick. The general fund will borrow from the housing fund to buy the parcel, which is being considered for various potential uses.

If the property is not used for worker housing, the housing fund must be repaid.

Former Mayor Rachel Richards chided the council for using housing dollars for the purchase when it has no real intent to build housing on the site. She accused the council of a “callous disregard” for the community’s housing needs, noting the city has made no progress on breaking ground for Burlingame Village though it has $13 million at its disposal.

Voters didn’t extend the real estate transfer tax dedicated to housing to create “a slush fund for other community projects,” Richards said.

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She agreed with the council, however, that the Zupancis parcel is a wise buy, suggesting the city seek voter permission for a loan to purchase it.

“This is a very valuable piece of property, and the price is very good,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“You’re right,” Councilman Tony Hershey told Richards. “There’s $13 million sitting in the bank and people are saying, `Why do I have to live in Carbondale?'”

Councilman Tim Semrau assured Richards that Burlingame, a potential 330-unit housing project, is moving forward and that ground could be broken by next spring.

But he agreed the city shouldn’t invest its housing dollars in a general fund purchase with no time line to repay it.

“The housing fund is for housing,” Semrau said.

He suggested several restrictions on use of the funds, including a defined interest rate to be paid to the housing fund along with repayment of the money. In addition, the funds must be repaid to the housing coffers within two years or sooner, if the money is needed to build a housing project.

The Zupancis property, located next to the Pitkin County Courthouse Annex, has been cited as a possible new location for a fire station or a public safety building.

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