Citys purchase of BMC land a small price to pay
November 30, 2007
OK, the city just laid out $18.25 million for 4.64 acres of dirt next to the Aspen Business Center, a hunk of land that wouldnt even constitute a decent-sized backyard for some of the McMansions around here.And as the preliminary plans now stand, local housing types are thinking of putting 100 units on that land, mostly condos, apparently, which will be either rentals or for sale.And the deal has brought the government-haters out of the woodwork.Granted, its a ridiculous price tag for that amount of land. But we should be used to it by now, living as we do in a bubble of financial fantasy that has proven immune to national and international economic ups and downs, including the current crisis in the housing market.Oh, I know, a recent report indicated otherwise, but what the report really said was that real estate prices here merely stopped climbing like a Harrier jet in takeoff mode. The prices were still climbing, though at a rate more in line with the realities faced by the rest of the world. And up, steeply is the only economic trend recognized and endorsed by the local land barons.So, back to the question of the land now occupied by the BMC West lumberyard and building-supply center, and the citys decision to buy it.Some have grumbled that the city is once again proving it has no concern for the convenience of the building class, by taking away the only source of lumber and other building materials that can be bought while some laborer at a job site also happens to be taking his coffee break.Its true that BMC West is the haven of quick resort for builders, according to a friend in the trade who does so much work there that they hand him free hats whenever he walks in. He also maintains a line of credit that might not be so available in other parts of the U.S. of A., where the cost of building viewed as acceptable here would be laughable in most markets.But were here, not there, and we take what we can get. My builder friend says he buys at BMC West when its necessary, mostly when its a last-minute or unanticipated need, and that the prices are higher and service spottier than in other area building-supply outfits. So, when he can plan in advance or is making a big buy, he arranges to get his goods elsewhere at lower prices.Aside from all that, the land was for sale by the corporate parent of BMC West, and only the most blissfully naive could believe that the buyer would propose affordable housing for the site. No, at best we would get a small ration of what they euphemistically call accessory dwelling units small apartments attached to the monster houses, ostensibly intended to be available to employees but in reality kept in reserve as guest quarters for relatives and friends of the wealthy. Developers consider these travesties a concession that they must suffer in order to win approvals from local government, but Ive never understood what the hell they are conceding, or to whom, or how it makes them suffer since they just pass the costs along to the consumer.The plain fact of the matter is that we need more affordable housing in the upper valley. Sometimes it turns into a bad joke, like John McBrides North Forty subdivision on the other side of the business center, where the term affordable has come to include million-dollar homes.And at $90 an acre in land cost and an estimated per-unit subsidy of nearly half a million dollars, the BMC West site is a big bite for local taxpayers.But if the price makes you choke, just imagine how your windpipe might feel if one day you were on a dance floor at your granddaughters wedding at some swanky local dive and you had a heart attack. Gasping for help, you realize the only people around you are the pampered rich, none of whom have lifesaving training. All the medical technicians, ambulance personnel, and other potential saviors live a half-hour away at best, in remote communities where they have been herded.But lucky for you, there is help nearby, because Aspen and Pitkin County have maintained their commitment to buy up any and all available property that can be had and turn it into housing for the people we all rely on to keep a community functioning and people alive.We play, we pay, as the saying goes. And Id sure rather have local government overspending on affordable housing projects that are actually affordable (another topic entirely) than on a lot of other foolishness I couldmention.