How much interest in Burlingame is enough?
July 9, 2012
ASPEN – Roughly 40 percent of the planned worker-housing units in Phase IIA of Aspen’s Burlingame Ranch have been reserved – some by prospective buyers who were willing to spend the night on a sidewalk – but how many such pre-sales it will take to give the City Council confidence to build the project remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority continues to market the unreserved units in Phase IIA, where the less expensive units predictably proved more popular than the pricier ones during a recent round of reservations.
With 82 units spread over seven buildings currently planned in the next phase of the worker-housing development, 34 applicants have selected specific units and each put down a $500 refundable deposit to reserve the unit of their choice.
Within the most popular price and bedroom configurations, there were more applicants than units, producing a couple of nights last week during which buyers camped overnight outside the housing authority’s door in order to get first dibs on reservation day.
Their eagerness apparently took some city officials by surprise, and Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley decried the arrangement.
“I was really actually disturbed by that. I don’t like to see families camping out on the sidewalk under any circumstance,” he said during a discussion with housing authority officials last week. “There’s got to be a better way to run this.”
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Chris Everson, affordable housing project manager for the city, said he didn’t anticipate the camping, but Assistant City Manager Barry Crook called it unavoidable.
“If it’s first come, first served, I’ve got to have a line of some kind,” Crook said.
Everson took it as an encouraging sign in terms of demand for the housing. Many already have housing of some type in the Aspen area, but they’re looking to Burlingame as the place where they can start a family or raise the children they already have.
“There are real people out there who are willing to camp out with their kid,” he said. “These are real people with real stories who need housing.”
Prospective buyers were particularly concerned about getting a place in line for eight planned category 2, one-bedroom units and five category 2, three-bedroom units. Not everyone who wanted one got one, and there is a waiting list of nine applicants for the two different unit types.
As of Friday, options remained available for every other size and category of housing unit in the phase IIA plans. In the higher categories, which sell for higher prices, few or no units have yet been reserved.
“The lower categories definitely reflect the current market,” said Cindy Christensen, operations manager for the housing authority.
At present, the units remain open to reservation only by the 70-plus buyers who have already prequalified with both the housing authority and a mortgage lender. After Aug. 6, unreserved units will be marketed to the working populace at large, though interested applicants will have to prequalify. Go to http://www.burlingamepresales.com for more information on the phase IIA plans.
The city is looking for committed buyers before it proceeds with phase IIA, though $10 million in infrastructure work is currently under way to prepare for the construction of housing. Decision time will come as the City Council prepares its 2013 budget in the fall, according to Crook. That’s when the council will be asked to give the go-ahead for all or part of phase IIA, if construction is to begin next year.
The council will have options if all of the units aren’t pre-sold by then, Crook added. Higher-priced units could be changed to more in-demand, lower-priced ones, though that would require a greater city subsidy to build them since the prices paid by the buyers is lower. Or, lower-priced units planned in phase IIB could be moved into phase IIA, leaving more of the higher-priced residences to be constructed in IIB.
The city also has the option of opening units to “non-priority” bidders. Under the housing guidelines, an occupant for every bedroom is a priority, so a two-person household would have priority for a two-bedroom unit over a single individual, for example. Selling a two- or three-bedroom unit to a single individual, or a three-bedroom unit to a couple, would likely allow Burlingame to tap a larger pool of prospective buyers.
“There are a lot of options to be decided as we move forward,” Crook said.
One of them, said Mayor Mick Ireland, is to simply building fewer buildings, though units have been reserved in all seven.
“I’m looking to match demand,” Ireland said. “Clearly, you build according to need.”
In buildings 1 through 5, nearly half of the planned units (25 out of 52 residences) are already reserved.
“That’s actually pretty good,” Everson said.
Burlingame Ranch, located on the outskirts of town, roughly across Highway 82 from Buttermilk, included 84 multi-family units and seven single-family lots in phase I. In all, 258 units are planned there.