City’s plan for housing hits a snag
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The city of Aspen, used to negotiating the conditions of development approvals from a position of power, found itself on the opposite end of the bargaining table with its Parcel D housing project Monday.
It turns out part of the proposed housing complex, which is supposed to be under construction by mid-August, is subject to covenants that govern development within the adjacent Aspen Business Center.
Now, city staffers are exploring the cost of reconfiguring the housing or, potentially, losing some of the units, versus the palatability of bending to ABC developer John McBride’s demands.
Council members, hoping to avoid construction delays, have scheduled a special meeting on Aug. 4 to again take up final approval of the development – a decision they were forced to put off Monday. The council must weigh its options – get the project off the piece of land that is subject to the covenants or reach an agreement with McBride that allows the affordable housing to go forward as planned.
At issue is what happens on a small triangle of land the city purchased from Qwest to improve access to its 2.5-acre building site on the eastern edge of the ABC. The city’s land is not subject to the ABC covenants, but the former Qwest parcel is. One end of a building, involving seven units, encroaches onto the Qwest parcel. With a maximum height of about 40 feet, the structure apparently violates the covenants.
In a letter to Mayor Helen Klanderud, McBride outlined his concern about the 40-unit housing project’s impact on traffic in the ABC. The housing access will come off the ABC’s Ventnor Avenue.
“To soften this problem, I have two recommendations which will be critical to my approval,” he wrote, though his letter lists five conditions, including compliance with the covenants.
Council members balked at his first request – to give first priority for the 40 one-bedroom sale
units at Parcel D to employees at the ABC. There are roughly 1,000 to 1,400 people working at the business/industrial park; housing them nearby makes sense, McBride said.
“I think that would be a great planning move,” he said.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards expressed doubt that the general public would support the use of city housing funds for a project geared to a specific subset of workers. In fact, the ABC is located in unincorporated Pitkin County, while Parcel D is being subsidized with tax dollars generated in the city.
“This is a major policy change in our housing program if we were to agree with this,” Klanderud said.
McBride also asked the city to eliminate any potential for a future street behind Deer Hill, connecting the planned 330-unit Burlingame Ranch project to the ABC. There have been discussions about a trail link, but not a street, city officials responded.
The city has agreed to pony up about $35,000 to reimburse McBride for Parcel D’s share of a water line McBride paid to install to serve his development, but council members were cool to his suggestion that the city pay to bury an electric line along Ventnor Avenue as part of its project. A rough estimate put the price of that work at $125,000.
The line, Klanderud noted, belongs to Holy Cross Energy. And, it, too, is located outside the city.
“It’s called an exaction,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.
“I think it’s an unreasonable exaction,” Klanderud said. “Yeah, I’d ask for everything I want, too, if I was in your position,” she told McBride.
McBride told council members he isn’t interested in holding up the city’s housing project, but wants the development to participate in the neighborhood. Other business owners and lessees have paid to improve the infrastructure that everyone shares, he said.
“In some ways, I see this project as being a parasite on us,” he said.
If the city can’t come to an agreement with McBride, its option is to get its housing off the former Qwest parcel, which could mean a costly redesign or eliminating seven units.
“There are always design solutions,” said Vince Hooper of ASW Realty Partners, the developer selected to design and build the project. “It’s a question of what’s the best solution and what does it cost.”
“I don’t see where we have a choice but to work things out with John,” Semrau said.
Klanderud expressed fear that construction will be delayed while the snafu is resolved.
“It was very important to us to move this project along. Now it seems to have hit a major stumbling block,” she said.
The city conducted a design/build competition last spring and selected a team led by ASW of Steamboat Springs to develop Parcel D.
The three finalists in the competition weren’t directed to avoid using the former Qwest parcel for anything but access in their designs, said Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.
If the issues can be resolved with next Monday’s special meeting, the council can stick to its timetable, which calls for final approval of a construction contract with ASW on Aug. 11, so work may commence. The project is slated for completion next summer.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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The city of Aspen and Pitkin County are partnering to buy a 274-acre tract of land off McLain Flats for $10 million on property owned by longtime residents Carolyn and Tom Moore.