Increasing affordable housing capacity in Aspen on fast track for 2022
Aspen City Council spent most of 2021 laying groundwork for what’s to come next year in creating new workforce housing and mitigating for development
This week and into the first week of 2022, The Aspen Times will examine the issues and news events that defined the Aspen-area community in 2021, while also turning the lens to next year and what to watch for. Our 10-part series will show how the pandemic’s tentacles have and will continue to dip into our lives: skiing, tourism, development, mental health, labor shortages, business closings, housing shortages, a real estate boom, entertainment, and on and on.
Aspen’s elected officials this past summer declared that affordable housing was a goal of theirs for the next year and after a two-day retreat on the effort earlier this month, they set the path for a multi-year strategic plan and philosophical direction on how to best approach it in 2022.
One tangible outcome of the work is forging ahead with two city-owned and developed projects off Highway 82 at the mouth of the Entrance to Aspen.
Aspen City Council gave direction this year to fast track the third and final phase of Burlingame Ranch, a subdivision located across from Buttermilk Mountain. By this fall, 79 one-, two- and three-bedroom ownership units will come online.
Aspen City Council in 2019 decided to have the units be pre-fabricated modules built in a factory in Idaho to speed up delivery of workforce housing, of which the community has a dearth of and is in crisis mode to house people.
The project was scheduled to begin construction in 2022 but elected officials directed staff to get it going this year.
“Add that to the housing success,” Mayor Torre said Wednesday. “We moved that forward quickly.”
Council in the coming months will determine what income categories should be set on the new units and how the lottery sales process will go, among other decisions.
In his project update to council, Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing development project manager, said the Burlingame schedule has slipped by four weeks from the original plan.
The project team will work toward making up time in an effort to begin the sales process in September of 2022 as planned.
Winter conditions and other factors heading into the first few months of 2022 will play a role in whether the time can be regained, Everson noted.
When completed, this final phase will finish out the 258-unit neighborhood that began in the mid-2000s and has cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The third phase is projected to cost $48.8 million, which does not include nearly $11 million in historic sunk costs like land acquisition, outreach, land use approvals and onsite and off-site infrastructure.
Just down the road at the Aspen Business Center is a 310-unit project being planned at what is known as the Lumberyard property, which is comprised of three parcels the city purchased over the past 15 years.
The city recently held an open house about the project, asking people to weigh in on parking, onsite amenities and other specifics that council will be deciding in 2022.
There is an online survey on the city’s website, aspencommunityvoice.com, about the project that is available to the public until Jan. 15.
Council’s first meeting of the year, Jan. 10, will be a work session about the Lumberyard project.
“The work that we are continuing with the Lumberyard, I think, are good signs of progress,” Torre said.
The project is estimated to cost $300 million, which will likely need to be financed since there is a finite amount of money that comes into city coffers through a 0.45% sales tax for affordable housing and 1% collected on any real estate transaction within city limits.
The current balance of that fund is roughly $55 million, with a portion of that already dedicated to Burlingame Ranch.
Both the city’s real estate transfer tax and sales tax dedicated to affordable housing are set to expire in 16 years and will need to be renewed by voters at some point.
City Finance Director Pete Strecker told council at its housing retreat held earlier this month that if the municipal government wants to borrow money for future housing projects, those revenue streams will need to be solid through the terms of the debt service.
So, there is likely going to be discussion at the council table in 2022 about when to go to voters for renewal of both revenue streams.
Other possible revenue streams could be found through taxes on short-term rentals or vacant homes, and more mitigation and impact fees on free-market development.
Council and city staff will spend the first half of 2022 overhauling the land use code so that affordable housing mitigation is more squarely matched with the unprecedented growth the community has experienced in the past two years.
Council on Dec. 8 placed a six-month moratorium on the issuance of building permits for demolition of residential property or the addition of square feet onto a home, and a nine-month pause on permits for short-term rentals so the city can realign its policies and regulations in response to what elected officials have said is unmitigated growth.
The city this year also hired a new executive director for the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, which manages 3,000 deed-restricted ownership and rental units in the inventory.
Council members said at their Dec. 6 housing retreat that they would like to focus on utilizing those units so every bedroom is being used, as well as securing deed restrictions that are set to expire, buying free-market buildings to convert them to affordable housing, and partnering with other entities like Aspen Skiing Co., the school district and other governments.
“There’s a lot to do in (the housing) realm,” Torre said.
The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.