City welcomes tough choices for housing

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Three strikingly different proposals to build 40 units of affordable housing near the Aspen Business Center will leave the City Council with a tough choice.

Council members took in fast-paced presentations on each of the designs Tuesday at the Pitkin County Library. Sketches, floor plans and three-dimensional models for the proposals were on display all afternoon. The public was invited to look them over and weigh in on a questionnaire; 42 were filled out and submitted.

“It’s obvious there has been a tremendous amount of work that went into what we have been presented today,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud at the close of presentations by each of the design teams. “I wish we had three sites – that we could simply say ‘go for it.’ This is going to be a very difficult decision.”

“The tremendous amount of effort in all of these is apparent,” agreed Councilman Tim Semrau. “It’s a pleasure to have a difficult decision.”

The three teams were chosen from nine development firms that submitted proposals to design and build the project on what’s known as Burlingame Parcel D, a long, narrow 2.5-acre site on the eastern edge of the ABC.

The project will be the city’s first attempt to really turn construction of its affordable housing over to the private sector – a move Councilman Tim Semrau has been pushing since he was elected.

“The goal was to get what we weren’t getting,” said Semrau, himself a developer.

With the design/build competition, Semrau said he hopes to see quality housing built more quickly and for less money than the government winds up spending when it is the developer.

The total budget for the designs range from $6.5 million on the low end to $7.1 million on the high end (that budget was adjusted from the initial $7.7 million proposal when developers discovered they’d added the land cost to their calculations twice).

The $7.1 million proposal would result in a $3 million government subsidy once the 40 one-bedroom units are sold; or a $76,486 subsidy per unit, according to developer ASW Realty Partners of Steamboat Springs.

That compares to roughly $110,000 per bedroom for the city’s 12-unit Seventh and Main housing project, which included 11 one-bedroom units, Semrau noted.

The council’s tendency to “stick its noses” into city projects is what drives up the cost, countered Ed Sadler, assistant city manager. For example, he said, the council decided to build space for a convenience store at Seventh and Main and then paid nearly $100,000 to convert it into a residence.

The council will have a chance to tweak the designs of whatever proposal it chooses for Parcel D, as well. The developer must take the project through the city approval process.

The council wants construction under way by June, with the units ready to sell about a year later.

During Tuesday’s presentations, council members quizzed two design teams on whether proposed carports could be converted into garages – both said yes – and hinted they’d be looking for things like construction that minimizes the noise residents will hear from neighboring units.

Presenters showed off the unique aspects of their designs and made note of the number of “green” points their projects could achieve in the city’s Efficient Building Program, which encourages sustainable design and construction. The city was shooting for 130 points. The proposals scored a range from 103 points to 137 points, but all three teams offered options to hit the 130 threshold.

Plenty of storage space, common areas in outdoor decks or green space, and covered parking were elements of all of the designs. Each also oriented buildings to take advantage of the views; the site is bordered by Deer Hill on one side and the industrial/commercial/residential complex of the ABC on the other.

“To us, the big issue here is the context,” said architect Joe Simmons of BlueSky Studio. “This is not a typical site, this is an impossible site.”

BlueSky worked on a proposal submitted by The Weitz Co. of Glenwood Springs, along with Studio B architects of Aspen.

“We are proposing a very modern project,” Simmons said. “We think we’ve got the funnest project here. We are totally amped to do this project.”

The Weitz design called for four different buildings with slightly pitched roofs, all centered around courtyards that open toward Deer Hill on the east. Each unit would be slightly different, Simmons said.

The buildings would be constructed off-site and can be assembled in three days, he said.

The designs “float” the buildings on the landscape, with two levels of tuck-under parking beneath the structures.

Peter Gluck and Partners of New York also offered a modern design with one interconnected, flat-roofed structure that would be built on-site. The building blocks curve with the site, breaking up its mass visually, said Gluck, the architect.

“Essentially, we’ve developed a simple unit – it follows the contours of the land,” he said. “Even though you’re looking at a fairly repetitive building, you’re not looking at a barracks by any means.”

The minimized footprint of the building allows cost savings that can be put back into the units themselves, like roughly $3,500 worth of windows per residence – far more than is typical for an affordable housing unit, said partner Charlie Kaplan.

The ASW proposal calls for residences constructed on-site in three clusters, with rustic-styled architecture and pitched roofs that become extensions of the slope of Deer Hill, said architect Doug Graybeal of Cottle Graybeal Yaw Architects.

Residents would enter underground parking from the street on the edge of the ABC, but their front doors would be to the east, opening to the open space.

Outdoor decks and patios, and 9-foot ceilings in the living rooms are proposed.

“There is a very strong attention to what the character of Aspen is,” said ASW’s Vince Hooper in describing the project.

The selection committee that chose the three finalists met Wednesday to discuss its recommendation to the council, which is scheduled to award a contract on Feb. 24.

Each of the design teams received $20,000 to generate the conceptual plans.

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