Forest Service plans to auction off Aspen lots
September 1, 2012
ASPEN – The U.S. Forest Service hopes to take advantage of a busy winter tourism season to auction off five lots carved from the agency’s prime piece of Aspen real estate.
In all, the agency is preparing to offer about an acre of its West End property for sale and use the proceeds to fund redevelopment of the rest of its Aspen Ranger District facilities. The cost of rebuilding the complex has been estimated at $9 million to $10 million, according to Kevin Warner, conveyance program manager for the Forest Service.
The sale of the lots – each will measure at least 6,000 square feet, as required by the underlying city zoning on the parcel – should come close to funding the agency’s plans for the rest of the site.
“It’ll probably leave us a little short still,” Warner said. In that case, some adjustments will be made to the design of the planned Forest Service buildings, he predicted. “We don’t anticipate getting much funding anywhere else.”
The agency’s 3-acre site on the western edge of town currently contains a collection of aging buildings that include a couple of single-family residences for employees, a bunkhouse, warehouse and the administrative offices/visitor center that sits on the property’s most prominent corner, at Seventh and Hallam (Highway 82).
All of the structures would be replaced with new, energy-efficient buildings, according to the agency’s plan. The redevelopment would save the agency $1.5 million in deferred maintenance costs on the existing structures, according to the Forest Service.
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In March 2011, the Forest Service presented several design alternatives for the property to the public. One option preserved the acre that is now pegged for disposal as a park-like area with a pond and interpretive trail. Instead, the triangle of land bounded by Smuggler and Eighth streets will be sold.
The two remaining acres will see a new administrative building, warehouse, bunkhouse to house 16 to 24 people and one triplex containing a two-bedroom unit and two one-bedroom units. Also sketched into the preliminary plans is a small outdoor amphitheater next to the administrative building – a place where ranger talks, for example, could take place on summer evenings. Both indoors and outside, the agency would have more space to engage with the public.
“It would allow us to do more of the visitor information services that we don’t currently have the type of facility for us to be able to do,” Warner said.
The new administrative building would house the same offices as the existing one, plus a larger conference room and visitor area. It would be set farther back from the corner of Seventh and Hallam, and a meadow environment created at the corner, according to the preliminary plans. The public would continue to enter the facilities off Seventh Street, but employees would pull into a lot off Eighth Street.
The Forest Service buildings would be a combination of one-and two-story structures, Warner said, though they haven’t yet been designed in any detail.
If the lots are sold, much of next year would be devoted to drafting final plans and construction drawings in time for a spring 2014 construction start.
“That’s a pretty rosy timeline,” Warner said.
Early last year, the agency was contemplating a schedule that put the start of construction in early 2013.
The Forest Service owns nearly an entire city block in Aspen’s West End, except for the corner lot that contains the Victorian building that was formerly Poppies Bistro, at Hallam and Eighth streets. The block is cut diagonally by a ditch; the single-family home lots are to one side of the ditch, on the northwest corner of the parcel.
The agency has had the Aspen property analyzed for wildlife, historical and cultural resources, according to Warner. The plan to sell part of the land will not require an environmental assessment, he said.
While the lots will be offered individually in an online auction that continues for 30 to 60 days, a buyer will have the option to bid on all five, according to Warner.
Buyers will have to take their plans for the lots through the city’s land-use process, but they won’t have to deal with any existing structures on the parcels.
“The nice thing about them is it’s a clean slate,” Warner said.