City ready to get going on | AspenTimes.com

City ready to get going on

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Nearly two years after Aspen voters approved a plan to build affordable housing on Burlingame Ranch, not a shovelful of dirt has yet been turned.

The controversial project won by about 60 percent of the vote in a special election on Aug. 8, 2000. But actual construction of hundreds of new homes on a swath of sagebrush west of town is not a whole lot closer today than it was then.

A host of factors have delayed the project, including financial concerns, a change in City Council membership, the renegotiation of the land deal that makes the project possible and a study of all the city’s options to build affordable housing.

Most recently, the Aspen Valley Land Trust has put forth a plan that would again amend the development plan.

But a majority bloc on the council is apparently anxious to put Burlingame back on the front burner.

“There are members of council who are eager to get going on it,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “There are things going on. Have we built any housing? No. That’s stating the obvious.”

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“We’re tired of waiting on all that stuff. We’re going to try to put it back on track,” said Councilman Tom McCabe, an outspoken proponent of the Burlingame project.

The council, he said, is ready to call for the reconvening of a community task force that came up with a development plan for 225 units at Burlingame. Since then, things have changed. Most notably, the city now has the option to build up to 330 units.

The increase in density means the task force will need to re-address the mix of units, according to City Manager Steve Barwick.

The actual layout of the housing, however, depends on the physical parameters of the building site – an issue that remains up in the air. It is the subject of negotiations between the Aspen Valley Land Trust and the Zoline family, and of separate talks between the land trust and the city. All three property owners are players in a complex deal involving close to 400 acres of mostly open land. The acreage is bordered by Highway 82, the Maroon Creek Club, the Airport Business Center and Maroon Creek.

The original preannexation agreement between the city and the Zolines, approved by the voters, allowed Aspen to build up to 225 affordable units on a 25-acre parcel that included about five acres of the city’s Burlingame Ranch and 20 acres of the Zolines’ neighboring Bar/X Ranch.

The Zolines gained development rights for their ranch in the agreement, including 12 luxury homes and a cabin along Maroon Creek.

Then the city renegotiated the deal with the Zolines, giving it the option to build up to 330 units, including 80 homes in the back bowl of Deer Hill on its property. That area had been protected by a conservation easement in the original agreement and will be again if the city can reach a deal to acquire about 30 adjacent acres owned by the land trust. The AVLT parcel offers about nine buildable acres.

Brought back into the negotiations, the land trust put forward a proposal to relocate the affordable housing to a portion of the Zolines’ ranch in order to preserve a wildlife corridor encompassing Deer Hill.

John Lifton and Pam Zoline, spokespersons for the family, rejected that proposal in a letter last spring but have yet to meet face to face with land trust representatives. That meeting is expected to take place next week, according to Lifton.

“We’re always willing to sit down and talk,” Lifton said. But he reiterated the family’s position: The Zolines will not agree to put affordable housing on irrigated lands that are critical to the continued ranching operation on the Bar/X.

“That just doesn’t work for us,” Lifton said.

Nonetheless, the land trust is still pushing its proposal, according to Michael McVoy, president of the AVLT board of directors.

“We’re not willing to give up on it until we’re convinced nothing can come of it,” he said.

The city, meanwhile, has sent the land trust a letter outlining proposed terms and conditions for acquiring the AVLT property in the event the land trust’s talks with the Zolines prove fruitless.

“It’s no secret we want that parcel,” said City Attorney John Worcester. “Our letter was simply an outline of a way we could acquire the parcel. The ball’s in their court.”

McVoy said the land trust will engage in talks with both the Zolines and the city. Aspen’s amended preannexation agreement with the Zolines requires the city to attempt to acquire the land trust parcel before pursuing any development in the back bowl of Deer Hill.

The council, however, isn’t going to delay Burlingame indefinitely in order to reach a deal with the land trust for its acreage, McCabe predicted.

“If we can’t get the AVLT land, there are three of us willing to build in that `sacrosanct’ back bowl,” he said. “We’d prefer not to.”

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

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