Latest surge of development shows why midvalley is falling behind on affordable housing

839 residences are approved or under review; 20% are guaranteed to be rent- or price-controlled

Construction is underway on the Stott’s Mill project in Basalt, which will add 113 residences. Of those, 19 apartment units will have rent caps and seven residetial lots will have sales price caps.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Just months before the Basalt town government will ask voters to approve $6 million for affordable housing projects, the Town Council has decided to hold a summit on the housing crisis.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum suggested at a meeting Tuesday night that the board should hold a broad discussion on housing issues as soon as possible.

“I think we need to talk to our (housing) committee and the public-at-large, and I think we need to do it sooner than later, because we’re already behind,” he said. “I feel like we’re going to get ever further behind.”

The latest surge of development in the midvalley — both in the town of Basalt and unincorporated Eagle County — demonstrates why governments are like a hamster running on a wheel when it comes to providing affordable housing. While all the projects include some affordable housing, the amount is dwarfed by the number of free-market units.

In Basalt, the Stott’s Mill project will add 113 total dwelling units. Of those units, 19 apartments will have rent caps and seven residential lots will have sales price caps. Stott’s Mill is under construction near Basalt High School.

The Basalt River Park project adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Institute will add 24 total dwellings. Four apartments will be rent controlled. Construction has started on that project as well.

Two additional projects are under review by the town. The Basalt Center Circle project, located at the site that was Clark’s Market’s old home in downtown, proposes 70 apartments. Eleven of them would be rent controlled. The developer also is proposing a 1.5% Real Estate Transfer Assessment, which would only apply if the apartment complex sells.

Another project in the pipeline is the final phase of the Willits residential development. Michael Lipkin has proposed 155 total units, including 44 apartments with rent controls. He’s also proposing a 0.75% Real Estate Transfer Assessment, which would apply to sales of the 111 free-market units.

In Eagle County, one major project is under construction in the El Jebel area and another is proposed.

The Tree Farm development is an eclectic mix of free-market and deed-restricted units. There are a total of 340 dwellings in the project. Of those, 140 are free-market apartments. Another 40 apartments have rent controls. Ten residences have sales price caps. That guarantees that 50 units will be in the affordable housing inventory.

Landowner Ace Lane convinced Eagle County officials during review to approve an experimental category of affordable housing as well. He will develop 150 units that don’t have price caps, but they must be available for purchase exclusively by residents of the Roaring Fork Valley for the first 60 days they are on the market. They are considered “resident-occupied” housing and can sell for whatever the market bears. If they don’t sell to locals, they can sell on the free market to any buyer with the condition that they cannot be short-term rentals.

Whether the RO experiment yields any “affordable housing” remains to be seen. The project broke ground this summer.

Eagle County also is cranking up the review of a residential project called The Fields, across Highway 82 from Blue Lake subdivision. A new landowner has proposed 137 total units, including 34 affordable housing units. Details are unfolding.

All told, those projects combine for 839 units. One in five, or 169, have sales price caps or rent controls. Another 150 resident occupied units at the Tree Farm are in the “to be determined” category.

Depending on how the Tree Farm experiment shakes out, there will be between 520 and 670 new free-market residences in the six projects.

Basalt Councilwoman Elyse Hottel said she is eager to explore housing policy options with the town’s appointed housing committee. Tennenbaum indicated he wants to review the town’s mitigation requirements.

As it exists, a percentage of units and square footage in a development must be dedicated to affordable housing. However, developers can opt out of building some of the units and provide a real estate transfer assessment instead. Council members have indicated in recent deliberations they believe the units are more valuable than the cash.

Basalt Mayor Bill Kane said he would welcome a housing summit to address evolving issues.

“This is all perfect timing,” he said.

The council already has decided it will seek voter approval in November for funding in three areas: improvements to the Midland Avenue streetscape in downtown Basalt, affordable housing and “green initiatives.”

The housing summit could give voters a sense of the town’s direction on affordable housing issues.