Housing partners play musical chairs
The Burlingame seasonal housing project has cleared its first government hurdle, but what actually gets built on the site could bear little resemblance to the plan now on the table.As proposed, and conceptually approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, the development is a 202-bed project to be jointly built by the Music Associates of Aspen and the Aspen Skiing Co.But behind the scenes, a game of musical chairs in partners might leave the Skico without a seat when the tune stops playing.”We’re looking into a number of different financing scenarios,” confirmed MAA general manager Edward Sweeney. “One is a public/private partnership, Marolt-style, working strictly with the city,” he said, referring to the Marolt seasonal housing complex.All parties involved stress that even with the P&Z’s initial approval, only the basic concept of the project been settled. That said, the end goal for more seasonal housing remains a priority for MAA and Skico, but how Burlingame addresses that need could change radically.Under the current plan, the city has first refusal on 33 beds in the winter season, 24 beds would be open to the general public, 24 beds would be reserved for the Roaring Fork Transit Agency, and 121 beds would go to Skico. In the summer months, all 202 beds would be utilized by music students.The “Marolt-style” alternative, however, leaves the Skico out of the picture until bidding starts on the units. Under this option, Burlingame would house music students in the summer; in the winter, all the beds would be available to employees in the community.”Quite honestly, I don’t know which scenario we’ll be pulling for before the Town Council,” Sweeney said. “I’d say stay tuned because we need to see what the council’s mood is on the 25th [of January].”Being left out as a development partner does not pose a problem for the Skico, according to Dave Bellack, company general counsel.”Essentially there’s no difference in what’s being discussed. Whether the project is built by MAA and Skico, then sold to the city, or MAA and the city build it, then Skico buys in, we end up in the same place,” he said.However, under the latter scenario, the Skico wouldn’t be guaranteed a certain number of beds in the winter months. But Bellack doesn’t perceive a great threat from other local employers clamoring for strictly seasonal units. In addition, Burlingame is far from being Skico’s only shot at employee housing, he noted.”Burlingame is important because every housing opportunity is precious,” Bellack said. “We’ve been working on every housing front we came across for a number of years. Some come to fruition, most don’t … . You just do the deals and hope for the best.”With 160 employee beds required to redevelop the Snowmass Lodge and Club and 130 beds planned at a new Buttermilk base area development, the Skico’s goal of 300 beds in three years could be met even without the joint MAA project.It may be the Housing Board, rather than a switch in project partners however, that throws up a roadblock to the Burlingame seasonal project. A growing number of board members are expressing reservations about using the city-owned Burlingame land for seasonal housing.According to some board members, year-round rental units are a more dire need in the community. They question whether Burlingame is “the highest and best use for that property.””Seasonal housing is the last thing I’d build there,” said Frank Peters, board chairman.Board member Bob Helmus said he opposes using, or selling, city land for seasonal housing when the last year-round, general rental project was built nine years ago at Truscott Place.”Given the huge waiting list at Truscott, there’s obviously a pent-up demand,” Helmus said. “I’d say seasonal housing should be our lowest priority right now.”Peters agreed, further noting that requiring people to vacate their apartments at the end of a ski season is a disservice to them and in turn a possible loss to the community at large.”The idea of seasonal housing is that there are fleets of people who just want to stay for the winter,” Peters said. “But I can only imagine that there may be some people, like me, who came for six months and ended up staying for twenty-six years.”
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Amid the pre-Thanksgiving gloom of grim pandemic news here in Aspen, across Colorado and the mountain west came a small but significant dose of hope in the unlikely form of an Aspen Music Festival and School announcement.