Decision time looms for big Lumberyard affordable housing project; Aspen council could OK it as soon as Tuesday

An artist rendering of the Aspen Lumberyard affordable housing project.
Cushing Terrell/Courtesy image

It’s time to let the fur fly Tuesday over the Lumberyard affordable housing project, which the Aspen City Council has teed up at last for full discussion with a public hearing and members of the council finally getting down to the hard questions among themselves.

Lingering questions over how the city will pay for the $400 million or more development are likely to come up, along with citizens advocating for the 277-unit complex with 467 bedrooms that supporters believe are critically needed.

Progress on the the Lumberyard timeline.
City of Aspen

At stake is the council’s approval of the development to move it along into the construction phases. The staff recommends a yes vote, referencing a history going back to the late 1990s of interest in building affordable housing at the site, the goals of the Aspen Area Community Plan, and compliance with land use codes.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission made its recommendation to approve the Lumberyard a month ago.

The council voted 4-1 on May 23 to limit discussion then and save that for the final reading and public hearing. Only Councilman Bill Guth, so far the most critical voice of the plan, voted “no,” though he said he generally supported the development.

He argued for more flexibility in what and how the project would be built, and going hard for the best private-public partnership with as few strictures as possible for now.

Councilman Sam Rose said, “My top concerns about the Lumberyard as it currently stands are the traffic light, lack of green berms along the highway, the tall design that creates an amphitheater of sound, the cost of financing, and ultimately the lack of purpose this project gives other than ‘just more housing.'”

“I want a housing project that has private partnerships. I want a development model that transfers risk from the city to a private company so when things go south the city is not on the hook. I want a project that is forward-thinking regarding parking/private auto use,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein. “My major concern is that I want to move forward with entitlements, but I don’t want to limit options or opportunities. I want as much flexibility while preserving the overall layout.”

Ordinance 10, the main legislation in question, includes amendments to the zoning map, planned development project review, and detailed review; major subdivision review; transportation and parking analysis; and growth management review. 

Upon completion of the land-use application process, construction could begin in 2024. The $400 million project would be completed in phases, with the final phase beginning on Building 3 and the subgrade parking garage in 2030 to be completed in 2031. 

The city-owned Lumberyard development site is 11.3 acres next to the Airport Business Center. The city purchased the land over several years with the intent to build deed-restricted units to address the affordable-housing crisis in the upper valley.

According to city officials: In 2008, the city used affordable housing funds to purchase 7 acres at the BMC West lumberyard. A lease was offered to a new lumber sales company through mid-2025 while the city banked the land until council was ready to pursue an affordable housing project there. The mini storage lot, an adjacent 3 acre parcel, was purchased in 2019 to create a contiguous 10 acre property.

The development application comes after four years of public outreach, community engagement, and City Council work sessions to determine conceptual and schematic designs for the project.

Since 2019, the city has conducted several rounds of outreach, including stakeholder meetings, pop-up events, surveys, community open houses, networking, online interactions, emails, fliers, and other engagement tools in which hundreds of people participated.

The planned development includes 100%-accessible, four-story buildings that would be certified as sustainable, with solar panel rooftops and green building techniques that would result in a 75% energy-use offset, city officials said. Other amenities include underground and surface parking, communal spaces for residents, new public streets, pedestrian and bike trails, and improved access of Highway 82.

“We must have flexibility in the future,” Hauenstein said. “The timing of the phasing and what building gets built when and for what should be more dynamic. Locking us into today’s solution may be constraining.”

Said Rose: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to move Aspen in the future on its best possible footing. Let’s give the Lumberyard a higher purpose and figure out a financially responsible way to pay for it and then we will have potentially created something really special.”

Tuesday’s meeting is open to public comment and available via livestream on GrassRoots Community Network.


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