Fire Department housing decision postponed again
Concerns about traffic impacts led Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday to again postpone a decision on Aspen Fire Department’s proposed housing project at the North 40.
The more than three-hour meeting hinged on $100,000 fee the county wants to help mitigate traffic impacts. The Fire Department, however, thinks those impacts will be “minute” and that the number is arbitrary and not based on any applicable plan, said Chris Bendon, a local planner hired to guide the project though the development process.
“We just don’t see any rational basis for (the $100,000),” he said. “It’s frustrating that nothing is backing up this number.”
He proposed providing $50,000 and five E-bikes for firefighter use, as well as a promise that the department won’t be the only one to mitigate traffic impacts.
The county is undertaking a traffic study of the area, though that analysis is not yet done, said G.R. Fielding, Pitkin County engineer. However, he said he thinks traffic issues in the area will be exacerbated by the Fire Department housing development and that traffic will be pushed further into the Aspen Business Center.
Fielding said the study would be available in September.
Commissioner George Newman said he couldn’t make a decision on the project until the results of that study are presented. Board Chairman Steve Child and Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury agreed that the traffic study is necessary before a decision could be made.
The District wants to build 17 units next to its fire station at the North 40 that includes a 34-space underground parking garage at a cost of $17 million. Most residents of the neighboring North 40 housing development have spoken out against the project.
Commissioner Greg Poschman questioned the cost of the project.
“Is this the most responsible use of public funds?” Poschman said. “I’m concerned about the cost of this.”
Wednesday’s meeting also featured a sharp exchange between Commissioner Patti Clapper and Bendon. Clapper pointed out that the ballot language in November 2018 that approved the mill levy paying for the project said the housing would be for firefighters only, though fire officials have said if there aren’t enough firefighters to fill it, they would go to other affordable housing applicants.
“That’s a concern to me,” Clapper said.
Bendon, however, told the commissioner such concerns weren’t her business.
“The (Fire Department) Board is not looking for the BOCC to be second-guessing how they spend money and operate the district operation,” Bendon said. “The (Aspen) Fire District Board is not looking for the BOCC to opine on those matters.”
“Thank you for putting me in my place,” Clapper shot back. “But I was speaking as a taxpayer.”
McNicholas Kury said she was “seething” at the end of the meeting and didn’t appreciate the “snarkiness” and “tone” of “some of the consultants” involved in the application. She also said she didn’t appreciate the lack of collaboration from the Fire Department and that she felt the board and the district were far apart in coming to a decision on the project.
The housing project is scheduled to be discussed again Sept. 23.
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