Government goes full-bore on housing |

Government goes full-bore on housing

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” City government could become the biggest developer in Aspen if plans move forward on more than 400 affordable housing units the City Council is eyeing on several properties.

The council on Monday directed staff to come up with a detailed analysis on the development potential of a small parcel on the east end of town called Shadowood, as well as adding second floors onto the red and yellow brick buildings. They also want to know how many affordable housing units could be built in the redeveloped civic center area on Main Street, known as the ZG Master Plan.

“Those four ought to go pretty quickly,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, adding that knowing how much those developments cost and how many units could be built are critical to moving forward.

However, the top priority for the council is to start the second phase of Burlingame Ranch, which would add 116 units to the 120 units already built there. Phase two is estimated to cost more than $50 million, which would exhaust the city’s housing fund until the project’s completion in 2011.

A bond measure to pay for the additional projects would likely be presented to voters in November 2008. The additional housing also would require reauthorization of the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) and the housing/daycare sales tax, which are revenue streams that currently contribute to the city’s housing fund. Building all that’s identified likely will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Staff also will look into the possibility of adding a third floor to Marolt Ranch, putting more units in the Twin Ridge development near the hospital, and investigating if there is any development potential at Centennial and Castle Ridge as part of adding density to unused land.

In addition, the Music Associates of Aspen approached city officials on Monday to pursue building seasonal affordable housing on a parking lot it owns near the music tent in the West End neighborhood.

Because the City Council considers building housing a priority, a new staff person will be hired to handle all aspects of pushing the projects to fruition, including financing, potential partnerships with other entities, preliminary design and acting as a community liaison.

Council members and City Manager Steve Barwick agreed that that person will need to be extremely smart and encompass a lot of skills, which most likely will command a hefty salary ” to the tune of up to $100,000 a year.

“The only positive that can be gleaned from the financial component is the fact that many of the properties we are considering for the near term are parcels that the city has a level of control or ownership of,” Assistant City Manager Bentley Henderson wrote in a memo to the City Council.

Any new affordable housing projects built by the city will remain in what officials call the Urban Growth Boundary, unless it involved a public/private partnership. Officials acknowledge there is little land left in Aspen’s city limits and developing on it presents a host of challenges.

“There are no easy development parcels left,” Henderson wrote in his memo. “Just about everything we do is going to involve challenging grades, confined parcels and opposition from neighbors. The latter represents the most difficult aspect of any development the city embarks upon …

“The ultimate goal is that projects be evaluated based on the project, and not its neighbors, or the magnitude of the opposition it may garner.”

Putting affordable housing on the fast track is a result of elected officials’ two-day housing summit held earlier this month. Officials acknowledged the severity of the housing problem and believe it is one of the highest priorities in the community. They established strategic priorities for moving forward with attainable solutions.

On the policy front, the City Council also on Monday directed the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority to investigate the ramifications of requiring developers ” both residential and commercial ” to house 100 percent of the employees their projects would generate. Currently, the land use code requires developers of commercial properties to provide housing for 60 percent of its workers.

“I am definitely ready to look at a higher threshold,” said City Councilman Dwayne Romero. “There is enough data to show that we have fallen behind that 60 percent threshold. And the development community, if they are worth a spit, should be involved and recognize that is lacking in the community.”

City Councilman Steve Skadron said he’s not against moving forward on 100 percent mitigation, but he wants to investigate what the negative impacts would be as well.

“It feels good to say projects should mitigate 100 percent of its employees, but what are the negative effects?” he said, adding some developments may be a benefit to the community and therefore should get a break.

New residential development also could be required to provide cash-in-lieu fees that would be funneled into the housing fund for future city-initiated projects. The council also wants to pursue giving incentives to single people who live in affordable housing units that are larger than what they need, possibly giving them a higher priority in the lottery system to bid on smaller apartments.

Romero also suggested that the city look at ways to “piggyback” onto private developments and build a few affordable units as part of their projects.

“It’s a density model and since the construction is already happening, the infrastructure would already be there,” he said. “I want that extra 5 or 10 percent.”