Housing advocates make their pitch for Bass Park | AspenTimes.com

Housing advocates make their pitch for Bass Park

The forces behind building affordable housing on Bass Park made their feelings known at Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting.

A half-dozen or so affordable housing advocates asked the council to take the initiative and push for housing on the property. Aspen voters, in this month’s election, sent an ambiguous message as to the parcel’s fate.

Offered four separate ballot questions proposing different options for Bass Park, citizens voted them all down. The alternatives included keeping the land as a park, building affordable housing on half of it, building affordable housing on the whole parcel or selling the land to a private developer.

The city of Aspen bought the property in January, for $3.4 million, almost entirely from the city’s housing and day-care fund. Only $100,000 of the purchase price came from the city’s open-space fund.

At last Monday’s council luncheon, the council was confronted by a citizens who want the parcel to remain a park and renamed in honor of the late Francis Whitaker, a former city councilman, blacksmith and open-space advocate. Council members, appearing to be influenced by the citizens, agreed to work toward that end. But last evening, a group voicing the opposite viewpoint sought the council’s attention.

David Schoenberger implored the council to reconsider its direction. He assured council members that citizens would back them in a decisive plan to place housing on the property, in spite of the vote. The decision to purchase the property with housing funds really dictated the proper destiny of the land, Schoenberger argued.

Several citizens pointed out that Bass Park is an ideal location for housing. Local businessman Charlie Tarver noted that under the criteria in the Aspen Area Community Plan, adopted by Aspen and Pitkin County in 1993, Bass Park is the ideal place to build affordable housing, given its central location.

Mayor Rachel Richards, however, recalled that the AACP more specifically called for Bass Park to remain a park.

Citing the need for housing, local Kevin Tripp said housing would add to the value of the city’s investment, even with only half the park built up in housing.

Longtime Aspenite Bruce Berger, however, said he’d prefer to see it remain a park. “I think Bass Park is a wonderful site for a park,” he said.

Councilman Tom McCabe regretfully called the park the ideal location for affordable housing. He seemed resigned to the momentum behind the park option, but he said if the city can get its money back out of the property, $3.4 million would build a lot of housing on property elsewhere.

Noting that the election wasn’t particularly decisive, Councilman Tony Hershey suggested perhaps the council should act more decisively and move ahead with housing.

Richards said she’s unclear on how to get the city’s housing and day-care money back out of the property, noting that the Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program would likely not donate more than a fraction of the amount necessary. But she said the amount of money the city spent could go further for housing elsewhere.

“For the same $3.4 million, we could have bought the Ullr Lodge” or some other existing building to convert to affordable housing, she said.

Richards seemed frustrated by the lack of a mandate from the voters, and noted that when the decision to build Truscott Place was made, the voters approved it decisively.

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