Is Aspen serious about solving the housing crisis?
Once again, Aspen’s mayor and City Council are failing to demonstrate any resolve when it comes to solving the city’s critical shortage of affordable housing.It is easy to bemoan the city’s “loss of character” caused by the lack of affordable housing. It is easy to declare that “something must be done.” It is, however, difficult to actually do anything – and the city is in danger of changing that “difficult” to “impossible” when it flatly refuses to even consider strong, innovative proposals.This week, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously asked the City Council to spend $7,500 to study the possibilities of using all or part of the municipal golf course for affordable housing.The majority of those at the council table that night had what can only be termed a knee-jerk reaction.The mayor, normally all too willing to study each and every permutation of a problem before making a decision, flatly refused to consider the idea of moving the golf course. Granted, it is a radical concept, but we are faced with a crisis and the possibility of putting as many as 500 homes on the golf course property is too intriguing to pass up without at least some thought.Councilwoman Rachel Richards, possibly thinking of the potential votes represented by the “Not In My Back Yard” contingent of Cemetery Lane residents, was nearly as adamant as Bennett in her refusal to even consider the idea.And Councilman Terry Paulson danced his characteristic jig of blind devotion to anything labeled as “open space,” without much thought for the consequences of that position. Rather than grant the P&Z’s request, Paulson said the money should be spent on a study to find ways to build housing without taking away open space at the entrance to Aspen.But the problem is, the entrance to Aspen has already been compromised to a great extent. From the airport in, it is not exactly the broad vista of open meadows that it once was.If it were done right, development of affordable housing on the golf course property could leave green belts along Highway 82 and between the new housing and existing subdivisions. After all, the highway itself is about to move. Soon it will be cutting through what is now the Marolt Park open space and diving into a tunnel before crossing Castle Creek, so it will be bracketed by green no matter what happens on the existing golf course.And if Cemetery Lane residents continue to object, perhaps the city could compensate them for any loss in their property values. It would likely end up being cheaper, in the long run than building numerous small, high-subsidy projects. In some recent small housing projects, land costs have tended toward $100,000 per unit – at that rate, the land alone for 500 units might cost as much as $50 million. Perhaps that is extreme, but it is a clear indication that the city’s current approach of building small projects on expensive land is not going to solve the problem.The fact is, the golf course is close to town. A development there could virtually be an extension of the existing city “grid.” It wouldn’t clutter the entrance to Aspen – it would be Aspen. And its closeness would make mass transit simple.The bottom line is this: The city of Aspen has a housing crisis. It cannot solve it with timid, halfway measures. It cannot solve it if officials sit back and declare – adamantly and highhandedly – “No!” to creative ideas.Such behavior lends credence to those who claim the city is not serious about solving the housing crisis that threatens its soul.Housing at the golf course wouldn’t clutter the entrance to Aspen – it would be Aspen.
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