Forest Service site off city’s housing list | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service site off city’s housing list

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen has crossed the U.S. Forest Service property off its list of potential sites for a city affordable housing project, given the likely price of the West End parcel, should the feds decide to sell it.

The city has engaged in periodic talks with the Forest Service about a potential land swap that would give the agency a more desirable site along the Highway 82 corridor for its Aspen Ranger District headquarters and free up the in-town Forest Service parcel for worker housing.

After a closed-door meeting with Forest Service officials last month, though, the city essentially concluded the coveted three-acre site at the corner of Seventh and Hallam streets is probably out of its reach, according to Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

Forest Service officials indicated the agency may eventually decide to sell its property and consolidate its Aspen and Sopris Ranger District offices somewhere in the valley, Sadler said. But with a $14 million appraised value of the Forest Service?s Aspen property, the city figures it will pass on the opportunity to buy the land, if it is put up for sale, he said.

If the land is purchased by a private developer, the city?s land-use code would require the construction of some deed-restricted housing on the parcel as part of its development anyway, Sadler noted.

?Whoever builds there is going to have to build some affordable housing. What?s your net gain for $14 million?? he said.

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Talk of putting a for-sale sign out front of the Aspen Ranger District compound, however, is premature, said District Ranger Jim Upchurch.

The White River National Forest, which encompasses the Aspen Ranger District, is in the midst of mapping out its future plans for all the Forest Service?s facilities in the White River. No decisions have yet been made, Upchurch stressed.

?We have a range of options, from staying here to selling our property,? he said.

However, the agency is no longer contemplating a land swap with the city that could reduce the price of the West End parcel, he confirmed.

Selling the Aspen property would require congressional approval. If the sale occurs, the Forest Service would not disappear from Aspen, Upchurch said. For one thing, the agency plans to operate a summertime visitor?s center at Maroon Lake, one of the most popular spots in the White River National Forest.

Now, during the summer, the agency sees an average of 100 people a day stopping in at its headquarters in the West End, Upchurch estimated.

?We always want to maintain a presence in Aspen,? he said. ?There?s a large role that we need to fill here with the public.?

The White River facilities planning should wrap up late this year. The proposals that come out of the plan will probably be presented to the public sometime early in 2003, Upchurch said.

The city has eyed the Forest Service land in the West End as an ideal, in-town site for affordable housing for years.

The property was the focus of several forums last year to seek community and neighborhood input on developing housing there.

The Aspen Area Community Plan envisions 50 to 120 units of housing on the property. The Aspen Affordable Housing Strategic Plan, produced by private consultants for the city earlier this year, suggested 72 units on the property, including 21 free-market units that would be sold to help offset the high cost of the land.

With no land trade to reduce the cost of the property, the consultants projected a $34.5 million project cost and a $4.6 million subsidy for the affordable housing ($50,060 per bedroom) once the units were sold. The 51 deed-restricted units could produce 92 bedrooms, according to the strategic plan.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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