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Housing swap on ballot?

Janet Urquhart

A proposal to ask voters if they’d rather see affordable housing built on the Moore Open Space than at Burlingame Ranch inched forward Tuesday with the consent of the Pitkin County Commissioners.

Commissioners agreed to direct the county attorney to help longtime local resident Chuck Vidal draft an advisory question to poll voters for their thoughts on the idea. The commissioners did not, however, commit to actually putting any such question on the ballot.

Vidal was at the commissioner’s work session to suggest Aspen and Pitkin County take one last look at potential sites for affordable housing that are closer to town and less likely to promote sprawl than Burlingame Village, which is located between Maroon Creek and the Airport Business Center. He said he plans to appear before the Aspen City Council, as well.

While Vidal was calling Burlingame “the leading edge of sprawl and leapfrog development,” a community task force charged with planning the 225-unit housing project was meeting at City Hall to continue its deliberations. Vidal suggested they slow down while other sites, including the Moore parcel, the Marolt Open Space and the city golf course get another look by affordable housing advocates.

“This is not a discussion, as far as I’m concerned, about housing or no housing,” Vidal stressed. “It’s basically to take a step back and try to make good planning decisions.

“I’m talking about the opportunity to really make a difference with an innovative project that, number one, doesn’t rely on the automobile and, number two, doesn’t rely on transit.”

Although most commissioners agreed there is some merit to finding out where voters stand on building housing at Moore and preserving Burlingame, some were clearly reluctant to meddle with county open space and voter support for housing at Burlingame.

“Even if I agree with using [Moore] for housing, it was purchased for the interest of open space,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “That concerns me that we are defying the public’s interest for purchasing that land.”

“I don’t like Burlingame necessarily, but the voters voted for it,” added Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “Are we going to undermine the confidence of the voters by putting something on the ballot?”

The question no one could answer yesterday was how to undo the deed restrictions placed on the Moore parcel when it was purchased with $3 million in county open space funds in 1992. The restrictions prohibit use of the land for commercial, residential and other uses, including free-market and employee housing.

Vidal said he has already approached Tom Moore about the proposal. “Tom said he wouldn’t support it, but to go ahead,” Vidal said.

Hatfield contends Moore will want to be paid the free-market value of the land if it is converted from open space. Moore couldn’t be reached for comment late yesterday afternoon.

The Moore Open Space consists of about 65 acres of sagebrush at the corner of Maroon Creek Road and Highway 82. The prime tract of land comes up repeatedly in housing discussions.

Commissioner Shellie Roy said she’d support a ballot question to find out once and for all how the public feels about the open space.

“I would like to find out from the public if Moore is sacrosanct. If it is, [the debate] is done,” she said.

Mayor Rachel Richards said she is not opposed to the idea, but said she would rule out use of the golf course or Marolt Open Space. She also urged the commissioners to put the question to voters in May and not wait until the next countywide election next November. Planning for Burlingame will be too far along by then, she said.

“My personal concern is that it doesn’t become a shell game – it’s moved from here to here to here and then it’s nowhere,” Richards said.

Burlingame comprises 220 acres and was purchased by the city for housing. Aspen voters last summer approved a preannexation agreement for Burlingame and the neighboring Zoline family ranch that outlined plans for 225 units of affordable housing on 25 acres.

The Zolines may develop 12 free-market homes on their ranch, a small cabin and up to four homes where the ranch house compound exists now, according to the deal. A conservation easement will protect about 170 acres over both parcels and allow the ranching operation to continue.


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