Initiative could send many housing projects to the polls |

Initiative could send many housing projects to the polls

Janet Urquhart
The 39-unit Annie Mitchell Homestead, better known as Parcel D, would have needed voter approval under one of two initiative petitions being circulated by opponents of the Burlingame Ranch project. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

If the past and present are any indication, many future city-built affordable housing projects would need voter approval under one of two initiative petitions being circulated by opponents of the Burlingame Ranch project.Both initiatives must make it onto a ballot and be approved by voters, however, before they become law.An ordinance proposed by one of the petitions would require voter approval of many housing projects once the public costs of a project have been analyzed and disclosed. Whenever a project exceeds 10 units or a public subsidy of $100,000 per unit, a public vote would be necessary.Most government projects number more than 10 units, even if they don’t exceed a $100,000-per-unit subsidy.Were the requirement in place today, it would apply to Burlingame Ranch, which is yet to be built; the recently completed Annie Mitchell Homestead project (also known as Parcel D); and the proposed Little Ajax project at the base of Shadow Mountain, also yet to be constructed.The latest cost calculation for Burlingame Ranch puts the public subsidy at less than $100,000 per unit, but since the project would include 236 residences at build-out, the proposed ordinance would apply.

At build-out, the subsidy for Burlingame, including construction costs, “soft costs” like design and engineering work, fees and the installation of infrastructure within the housing site, would total $62,522 per lot or unit, according to a recent analysis by the city. The subsidy is based on current cost projections and tentative sales prices for the homes and lots.The projected subsidy for phase one alone is roughly $107,738 per lot or unit. There are 97 units and lots slated for the first phase.The city’s recently completed Annie Mitchell Homestead – 39 one-bedroom units next to the Aspen Business Center – cost $98,704 per unit in total public subsidy. That’s slightly less than the $100,000 limit proposed by the initiative, but since the project contains more than 10 units, the ordinance would apply, according to Dwight Shellman, a former Pitkin County commissioner who helped initiate both petitions.”The ordinance would not kill the project but only require disclosure and voter approval before it could be built,” Shellman said in an e-mail to The Aspen Times.Shellman said he would argue Annie Mitchell Homestead would have been appropriate for voter approval, had it gone to a vote, since it’s geared toward lower-income buyers and exists on the fringe of an existing urban development served by mass transit. That’s not the case with Burlingame Ranch, he contends.

But City Councilwoman Rachel Richards, a supporter of Burlingame, has argued the requirement of a public vote for all housing projects of more than 10 units could have far-reaching consequences. They include delayed or missed construction seasons, given the timing of elections, and “endless challenges” to the cost analysis for each project. Housing projects could regularly become the subject of election campaigns, she added.”This is placing a new burden on affordable housing that doesn’t affect commercial development, free-market development or any other development,” Richards said at a recent council meeting.’One-two punch’?Richards called the two petitions a “one-two punch” to end local housing efforts.The petitions, meanwhile, are each still roughly 100 signatures short of the required 736 names, according to Bert Myrin, a local resident helping head up the petition drive. A Feb. 7 deadline looms to submit them to the city clerk’s office, but Myrin said he’s confident circulators will have collected enough signatures by then.Only one individual has asked to have their name withdrawn from the petitions since several outspoken Burlingame advocates began urging citizens not to sign the petitions or to ask circulators to remove their names, he said.

“Which is very reassuring,” Myrin said. “That means people who signed want to see these on the ballot. Whether they vote for it or not, they think it should be on the ballot.”Myrin, too, said projects like Annie Mitchell Homestead are likely to win voter approval if they have to be put to a vote. The proposed ordinance doesn’t prevent affordable housing, he said, but it raises the bar for evaluating housing projects.”I think people will continue to support good projects,” Myrin said. “There are some people, I think, who want projects to get through even if they aren’t good.”Among the projects that could have been impacted by both petitions is Little Ajax, a 16-unit affordable housing project to be built privately, but with a city subsidy of $211,876 per unit. The project is currently in the process of City Council review.Little Ajax, slated for a site on West Hopkins at the base of Shadow Mountain, is also the subject of a preannexation agreement between the city and the developers, requiring the developers to seek a rezoning application and approval for the project. The agreement also sets forth the city subsidy.It’s possible the other initiative petition, which would prohibit the city from entering into preannexation agreements that assure development outcomes, would apply to Little Ajax, if that initiative was already in effect as a city ordinance.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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