Is it time to fish or cut bait on Burlingame? |

Is it time to fish or cut bait on Burlingame?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

In what city staffers have dubbed the “fish-or-cut-bait meeting,” the Aspen City Council is expected to decide today whether it wants to move forward with the controversial Burlingame Ranch housing development.

The proposed 330-unit affordable housing project west of town has divided both the community and the council, though city voters endorsed 225 homes at the site in an August 2000 election. The ballot question won by a 60 percent margin.

One housing board member is predicting a big turnout at today’s work session, which begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall. Burlingame supporters have been calling citizens and urging them to show up.

“We’re trying to get as many people as we can to come to the meeting,” said board member Marcia Goshorn. “I keep hearing, ‘We don’t need any more housing.’ In whose world?”

When the council last discussed Burlingame in September, Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Terry Paulson were calling for the city to abandon the development. Klanderud said she had changed her mind and could no longer follow the voters’ wishes on the project.

Council members Tim Semrau and Rachel Richards favor moving ahead, starting with installation of roughly $8.5 million worth of utilities and other infrastructure to the site next year.

Councilman Torre is considered the swing vote, though he indicated in September he’s willing to go ahead with Burlingame if other, undisclosed sites on which to build housing don’t come to fruition by January. That’s when the city planned to begin seeking bids for construction of the infrastructure.

Council members hinted that another parcel, possibly more to their liking, might move ahead of Burlingame as a priority for affordable housing development. Since then, other sites have been suggested as well, according to Assistant City Manager Ed Sadler, but none are ready to go.

“I don’t think there’s any property that’s immediately available,” he said.

One oft-rumored site is the Aspen Valley Hospital campus on Castle Creek Road, which would require a new hospital on the Burlingame property or elsewhere. At this point, that option is little more than a rumor, according to John Sarpa, hospital board president.

“We haven’t had any discussions or negotiations or anything like that,” he said.

Some people ” not the City Council, he clarified ” have suggested that since AVH is about to embark on an $11 million renovation, followed by a larger, $30 million rehab, it might be more efficient to start from scratch and build a new facility.

The hospital campus, however, is about 12 acres in size; the Burlingame site is more like 32.

The site swap with the hospital is a “pretty out there” idea, Sarpa said, but hospital officials are interested in seeing if the city pulls Burlingame off the table.

“We’re watching carefully what the council does … then we’ll go from there,” he said.

Burlingame opponents decry Burlingame as sprawl on vacant land that will put more cars on the highway and further strain the bus system and the schools.

Supporters say it will barely make a dent in Aspen’s worker housing needs, which will only worsen as the remaining free-market homes that house workers turn over to second homes in the coming years.

A 2000 housing study concluded there were 3,684 local households with at least one employee. They were living in a combination of 1,937 deed-restricted units and another 1,747 homes that aren’t preserved as worker housing.

“Even at 330 units, Burlingame will not come close to replacing free-market units now housing workers that will be converted into second or advocate,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland.

Further, he added, the addition of 457 units of worker housing since 1998 has had little effect on school enrollments. In-district enrollment grew from 1,071 to 1,097 students during that period, according to Ireland.

As part-time residents replace locals in the 1,747 free-market homes that currently house workers, the demand for school space may decline enough to more than offset any gains resulting from Burlingame, he contends.

If the city goes forward with the housing project, it will be in phases, not as one huge project. In past discussions, the council has indicated it would move ahead with 110 homes in the first phase.

If the council agrees to proceed, it is expected to discuss the bedroom mix and price categories of the homes to be built when it meets today.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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