City ready to build housing near AABC |

City ready to build housing near AABC

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen?s next affordable housing project should be under construction next spring, the City Council agreed this week.

The city is eyeing up to 40 units of deed-restricted housing on what is known as Burlingame Parcel D, a small parcel of city-owned land next to the Aspen Airport Business Center. It was purchased as part of the larger Burlingame Ranch property.

At a Wednesday work session devoted to future housing projects, council members put the Parcel D project on a fast track and started the ball rolling on the separate, 330-unit Burlingame project dubbed ?big Burlingame? (see related story).

?I see no reason why Burlingame Parcel D can?t start next spring,? said Mayor Helen Klanderud. ?We need to devise a process, whatever it is, to get that done.?

?I would like to see this project go into the ground by next year, too,? said Councilman Tim Semrau. ?This is not a complicated project with a lot of opposition.?

The council agreed to put the project into its COWOP process, used when the city is both the applicant and the entity that will approve a development application. COWOP (it stands for the Convenience and Welfare of the Public) brings representatives of the neighborhood, public and local governments together as a task force to draw up a plan for a project that is then forwarded directly to the council for approval.

The process was devised to give various interests a say in the design of the project rather than sending a city development application to various review boards that looked upon the project as a done deal by the time it reached their table.

But the city?s recent experience with the COWOP group that designed the public/private Obermeyer project resulted in a plan that no one was crazy about. This time, Klanderud said, the council needs to give the task force some parameters going in.

?If you don?t know what you expect from that group, you?ll never get what you expected,? agreed city planner Joyce Ohlson.

Rather than a full conceptual plan, the City Council will look for a preliminary site plan from the task force, so it can seek design expertise from developers in the creation of a conceptual plan.

?I don?t want to eliminate the creativity of the designers,? said Councilman Tim Semrau, a developer.

The council, not only smarting from its most recent COWOP experience, has also taken heat from the community for the look of the Truscott Place expansion, a housing project now nearing completion.

?We jeopardize the entire housing program by building ugly buildings, because the public says, ?Jesus, take the money away from those guys,?? Semrau said.

The council expects to appoint the Parcel D COWOP task force at its Sept. 23 meeting. At that time, city staffers will also bring forward recommendations on the mix of housing that should be built at the site.

Originally eyed for inexpensive one- and two-bedroom rental units, the council is now considering some inexpensive sale units at the site. The Truscott expansion may have fulfilled much of the need for cheap rental apartments, said project planner Michelle Bonfils.

The city could designate much of the project as Category 2 sale housing, Semrau suggested. ?There?s a huge need for that,? he said.

Consultants have estimated the construction cost of a 40-unit project at $4.8 million. Land costs for the project, including the recent purchase of about 15,000 square feet of property from Qwest Telecommunications to provide access to the site, total roughly $500,000.

Rental housing would require the city to subsidize all of the construction and then recoup it slowly over time through rents. Sale units would allow the city to recoup more money up front, but it will still remain a highly subsidized project if the units are sold at Category 1 or 2 prices ? the least-expensive categories, noted City Manager Steve Barwick.

The council agreed it needs to build the cheaper units, even though the subsidy will be high.

?We can?t continually avoid biting this bullet,? said Councilman Tom McCabe.

A Category 1 one-bedroom unit current sells for a maximum of $39,300; a two-bedroom goes for up to $47,300.

A Category 2 two-bedroom unit is $104,700, and a one-bedroom is $84,600.

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