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Housing plan for Aspen Mass rekindles

Aspen Times Staff Report

The newly designed housing plan for Aspen Mass may jump-start negotiations for another affordable housing development – on the U.S. Forest Service property in Aspen.

Local governments approached the Forest Service several years ago to pitch a land swap that would give the Aspen Ranger District a new, more visible headquarters and open up the Forest Service property in town for affordable housing.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority plans to meet with local Forest Service officials this month, and the topic is likely to be on the agenda, said housing director Mary Roberts.

Driving a renewed push on the Forest Service parcel is the design work for Aspen Mass, city-owned land on the north side of Highway 82 at Brush Creek Road. The design for a 120-unit project at Aspen Mass was chosen in a competition that concluded last month.

As the housing office begins preparing to bring that project forward, what happens on adjacent land owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation comes into play, said Jay Leavitt, director of development for the housing office. The housing design incorporates some of the CDOT land, where the park-and-ride lot at Brush Creek Road is now located. Part of that land was also envisioned as a possible site for the new Aspen Ranger District office when the city last engaged in trade talks with the Forest Service.

Jim Upchurch, the new district ranger in Aspen, said he is reviewing the district’s options to relocate vs. staying put.

“I haven’t settled on any particular site,” he said.

Upchurch said he’s keeping several goals in mind as he reviews the alternatives: a place that best serves the public, one that provides more housing for personnel and one that provides a place for the agency’s horses.

The Forest Service’s present site, three acres at the corner of Seventh and Hallam streets, contains the district’s offices, a bunkhouse for seasonal employees, two residences and a place to pasture horses that are boarded in Carbondale.

Rob Iwamoto, former district ranger in Aspen, had expressed interest in relocating to the Brush Creek Road area. He had been working on congressional legislation that would likely be necessary to make a land deal happen, according to Upchurch.

The Forest Service can swap land for land of equal value, but the district doesn’t have the authority to sell its holdings and use the cash to build new facilities, he said.

“I can’t just trade for a piece of property. I don’t have any appropriated dollars to build a new facility,” he said.

Past discussions called for the city to build the Forest Service facilities, but the agency doesn’t have the ability to swap its developed Aspen parcel for a developed parcel elsewhere either, said Al Grimshaw, lands and minerals officer in Aspen.

The Forest Service parcel is probably more valuable than what the agency would receive elsewhere, he added, making some sort of cash payment necessary.

If a cash transaction is part of the deal, the Aspen Ranger District would like congressional approval to keep the money in the White River National Forest to upgrade other facilities, Grimshaw said. Otherwise, it would go into the U.S. Treasury.

Talks with the city and Housing Authority don’t mean a deal is imminent, added Upchurch.


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