City strikes deal on Little Ajax project |

City strikes deal on Little Ajax project

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen will commit $1.3 million in open space money and $3.39 million in housing funds to make a 16-unit affordable housing project happen at the base of Shadow Mountain.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to participate in the project under those financial parameters with architects Peter Gluck and Charlie Kaplan, developers of the proposed Little Ajax project on West Hopkins Avenue.

The housing subsidy is more than the council was hoping to spend, but $85,000 per bedroom for an in-town project is “an OK deal,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.

As conceptually proposed, Little Ajax will contain all Category 4 units, including one two-bedroom condo and 15 three-bedroom condos, for a total of 47 bedrooms.

The development will occur on flat land at the base of Shadow Mountain, where South Fifth Street intersects Hopkins. A trail along the old Midland Railroad right of way will be extended behind the housing, and the land above it, rising up the lower slopes of the mountain, will be preserved.

“It’s a large chunk of cash. We all know we can do affordable housing on our land outside of town a lot cheaper, but this is to accomplish a series of goals,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

Gluck and Kaplan have a pending application before the council that would put 11 affordable units along Hopkins Avenue and four free-market townhomes on the lower slopes of Shadow Mountain. It requires no city subsidy.

Objections from a group calling themselves the Friends of Shadow Mountain, who want the trail and the mountain slopes kept free of development, spurred the developers to rethink the plan.

Four different proposals for an all-affordable housing project that would preserve the upper part of the Little Ajax parcel as open space were presented for the council’s consideration yesterday. They required city subsidies ranging from $3.4 million to more than $6 million.

The cheapest option would have allowed a 14-unit project with condos priced at Category 5, 6 and 7 levels.

“I personally have a hard time subsidizing the very highest categories of community housing,” Richards said.

“I’m not particularly thrilled with subsidizing categories 5, 6 and 7,” Mayor Helen Klanderud agreed.

A three-bedroom, Category 7 unit would sell for a maximum price of $436,100, Kaplan noted.

A Category 4, three-bedroom unit currently goes for a maximum price of $271,200.

Council members were also troubled by the prospect of, in essence, having housing funds subsidize the preservation of open space. Aspen’s Open Space Board, an advisory group, had suggested no more than $600,000 in city open space funds go to preserving the trail and the land above it.

Semrau suggested upping that sum to $1.3 million – a sum closer to the true value of the open space – with the hope that the Aspen Valley Land Trust and other sources will help whittle down the amount coming from the city.

The Friends of Shadow Mountain have declined to participate in the open space purchase at Little Ajax because members are concerned about the density of the proposed housing project on the site, according to Jeff Woods, the city’s parks director.

If the city spends $1.3 million on the Little Ajax open space, it may not have the funds for other acquisitions on Shadow Mountain, Klanderud warned.

“We really need help from the Friends of Shadow Mountain, for one thing,” she said.

Plans for the new Little Ajax are scheduled for council review on Nov. 24.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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