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Housing office widens search for project designs

Sarah S. Chung

Hoping to usher in a new “openness” in the employee housing program, a national design competition is being contemplated for the Aspen Mass project.

Last week, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board unanimously approved a design competition which will seek proposals from architects across the country for a new affordable housing project at Aspen Mass. The parcel is located at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road.

Funding for the competition must still be authorized by the city and county. But housing board members see the approach as a way to substantially raise the caliber of affordable housing developments.

“It’s absolutely exciting what possibilities might emerge,” said board member Tim Semrau. “I think this is the first step in opening up the housing program to all sorts of innovations and partnerships with the private sector.”

Aspen Mass, a 32-acre parcel, was purchased in 1998 by the city and county. Joint meetings between the two governments later that year determined that some 120 to 150 units of employee housing, with a mix of sale and rental units, would be appropriate for the site.

In the proposed competition, the housing office would advertise nationally to seek designs, filling in competitors on the basic expectations for the property. Five finalists would then be selected from the submissions. Each of the finalists would receive $10,000 to flesh out their proposals and the winner would receive a bonus and further payment for the chosen design.

“I don’t see how we would lose on this one,” said housing board member and County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “This is a wonderful way to reach out for some innovative housing ideas. Even if they don’t work out for Aspen Mass, we might be able to use them somewhere else.”

Ireland added that Aspen Mass is “ripe” as a testing ground for such a competition because the land is already in public hands and doesn’t have to conform to a rigid timetable.

“We have the luxury of developing it in a year, two years or five years from now and that’s not something you can say about other parcels,” Ireland remarked.

If the Aspen Mass experiment works well, housing board members see a national design competition used for other future employee housing projects.

“I certainly hope this is something we do again and again,” Semrau said. “This might be a way to get lot of public interest early on in the process. Maybe we could show the finalists’ designs at the Wheeler and get the public excited about building great affordable housing.”


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