Details, ordinance remain for Aspen’s Boomerang project
July 13, 2011
ASPEN – The attorney for the development group planning an affordable-housing complex at the former Boomerang Lodge site said Tuesday that he doesn’t know when construction is likely to begin on the project.
“I think it turns on when we will be able to get an acceptable construction loan,” said E. Michael Hoffman, attorney for a Virginia group represented locally by developer Steve Stunda. “I frankly don’t know the status of that.”
Stunda was not available for comment Tuesday in the wake of Monday night’s decision by a majority of Aspen City Council members to allow a 40-unit affordable-housing development with 38,000 square feet of floor space on the former lodge property on West Hopkins Avenue. Mayor Mick Ireland and councilmen Steve Skadron, Adam Frisch and Derek Johnson came to an agreement on the controversial proposal, with Councilman Torre dissenting.
Hoffman said the project can work from an economic standpoint under the new revisions, but noted that there are still details to be ironed out. In fact, the council has yet to officially craft and pass the ordinance allowing the project. Monday’s decision could be considered a “straw vote,” as one city official put it.
At the next City Council regular meeting, set for July 25, the council is expected to vote on a revised ordinance that takes into account all of the concessions the developer, the mayor and three council members agreed upon at Monday’s meeting.
After more than three hours of wrangling over details of the project, Stunda agreed to further reduce the project to 40 units, split evenly between Category 3 and Category 4 properties. At the beginning of the meeting, he proposed a 42-unit development in three buildings – 39 of them being Category 4 – with the middle building rising to four stories.
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At the urging of opponents and council members, Stunda agreed to lop off the fourth floor of the middle building’s design and reduce the overall unit count by two.
The project the development group presented at the start of Monday’s discussion was a considerable reduction from what was in the works late last year, when more than 50 units in a single, monolithic building was the concept. The reductions came about through a series of Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council meetings and public hearings over the last seven months.
Hoffman said the major question that has yet to be answered involves a new idea that came about during a recess in Monday’s discourse. In exchange for downsizing the building, reducing the unit count and allowing more Category 3 sales in lieu of Category 4 – which would be more expensive to potential buyers – Stunda asked for permission to pre-sell 20 units to local employers.
Some council members said they wanted a say in how the pre-sales effort would be conducted, and also said that the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority should be allowed input into the process.
Stunda’s group nixed a concern of Councilman Torre – that the developer could downsize the project by offering a few free-market components to help offset his risk. At the meeting, Hoffman said free-market units would change the application from its primary intent of supplying more affordable housing to the city’s work force.
The developer will receive financial incentives through a new city program that seeks to promote affordable-housing projects by private developers. Basically, developers who build affordable housing will receive credits, or “certificates,” that can be sold to other developers as mitigation for their affordable-housing requirements. However, it’s not known how much the credits Stunda’s group will receive through the program will be worth, since none have been issued or sold so far.
Neighbors of the old Boomerang lodge, most of them opponents of the project, turned out in force for Monday’s public hearing. One man even proposed an alternative plan, complete with design sketches, calling for 32 units using 30,100 square feet of floor space, smaller buildings, a rooftop deck and more green space.
Stunda rejected a suggestion that the two sides take a few weeks to meet in the middle, forging a compromise between the two plans. Instead, he preferred to reduce his plan late Monday night during a brief recess in order to win a consensus from the council and avoid further delays.
Though the developer’s parking plan had been the major concern of neighbors and opponents over the last few months, other concerns came to the forefront during the hearing, with parking taking a back seat.
Dick Carter, a part-time resident of the nearby Christiana complex, said he didn’t understand why the council had so much scrutiny over the Aspen Walk affordable-housing project earlier in the meeting but didn’t have the same level of concern over Boomerang.
Carter questioned a fourth-floor addition between a June meeting and Monday’s meeting. He also said that deed-restricted affordable housing in Aspen is not in demand, a point that Ireland later refuted.
“Me and my Realtor friends have talked about this,” Carter said. “That locals now don’t want deed-restricted property because now they can go to Willits and places in Basalt and get free-market housing [within a financially depressed housing market]. Where prices have stabilized in the core of Aspen, they have not stabilized downvalley.”
Carter also pointed out that large snowbanks stand on both sides of West Hopkins from November to May, limiting parking options. But Ireland said the city could take care of that issue easily in the near future with a more comprehensive snow-management plan.
Andrew Kole, a former candidate for mayor, council and school board, spoke next, saying the plan for 39 Category 4 units was out of kilter with the needs of the community.
He also said a portion of the profit from Stunda’s financial-incentive “certificates” should go back into the local affordable-housing program. That idea did not gain traction among council members.
A Christiana resident who recently moved to Aspen from San Francisco said the project seemed liked “a square peg in a round hole.” She added that she’s not against affordable housing, but that one reason she left California was to get away from massive neighborhood density and the feeling of being crammed.
Tammy Stuart said she worried that the area would lose its “small-town character,” and expressed concern that the extra vehicles added by the development would threaten the safety of kids and adults who use the West Hopkins pedestrian bikeway.
West Hopkins resident Steve Goldenberg, who has perhaps been the most outspoken critic of the project, said he would prefer that Stunda build a lodge on the site rather than affordable housing. Stunda received approval in 2006 for lodge redevelopment on the property, but switched gears and turned to the affordable-housing concept after the economic downturn made it difficult to obtain financing for a lodge.
Goldenberg said the lodge would only be busy during certain times of year, therefore having a lessened impact on the neighborhood. He added that other affordable-housing projects in the neighborhood have an average of two off-street parking spaces for each unit, while the Boomerang would only have one.
Reached by The Aspen Times on Tuesday afternoon, Goldenberg declined comment on the council’s decision.
The public hearing was not entirely one-sided: A few others in the audience spoke in support of Stunda’s plans.