Little Ajax developers may stay off
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Acknowledging community opposition to development on the lower slopes of Shadow Mountain, developers of Little Ajax are now exploring a housing project that stays off the mountain.
City Council members praised the developers Monday, when they suggested it may be possible to build just the affordable housing component of their plan and forego the free-market homes creeping up the mountainside.
“We think we could build some fantastic affordable housing there,” said architect Charlie Kaplan.
The developers were before the council seeking final approval to build 11 units of affordable housing and four free-market homes on property at the base of Shadow Mountain along West Hopkins Avenue, at the terminus of South Fifth Street.
Although that project was scheduled for a public hearing and, possibly, a decision from the council last night, Kaplan and planner Joe Wells set aside the proposal and offered a couple of alternatives for the council to mull instead.
“We recognize there is opposition,” Kaplan said of the Little Ajax plan. “It’s not a good project if a large chunk of the community’s against it.”
Most of that opposition has come from the Friends of Shadow Mountain, a group of citizens that has focused its attention on several pending developments along the base of the mountain, including Little Ajax.
The Friends are trying to protect the former Midland Railroad right of way, which now functions as a trail cutting across the base of the mountain, and everything above it on the slope.
Kaplan offered two alternatives that would accomplish that goal – build two free-market, single-family homes on the flat land fronting Hopkins, or build something along the lines of the two buildings of worker housing that are envisioned as part of Little Ajax, also on the flat parcel. The trail would be extended across the property behind the housing.
The two homes are the easiest option, he conceded. To make the all-affordable housing project financially feasible, all of the units might have to be sold at resident occupied prices. RO is the most expensive, and controversial, type of affordable housing.
“I know RO is a dirty word, potentially, in town right now,” Kaplan said.
The council, however, had just finished telling the developers of a different project, the Residences at Little Nell, to provide some of the worker housing for their timeshare hotel in town (see related story, page 3).
Councilman Tim Semrau suggested the Little Ajax applicants meet with the hotel developers.
“Just perhaps, there’s a way for everyone to win in this,” Semrau said. “Perhaps the other developers can make you whole and do some of their affordable housing in town. It’s a win for everyone.”
“We just had a conversation with that party,” Wells said.
While the proposal would prevent development on the slope of the mountain, Friends spokesman Michael Behrendt wasn’t ready to give the idea his blessing.
“There’s a sense of proportion here that’s kind of scary,” he said. “We’re not against housing projects, but we’re against projects that are proportionately pretty heavy.”
Behrendt said the Friends could, however, easily support the two single-family homes, surprising both some council members and the developers.
“I’m actually stunned,” Kaplan said.
“I am too,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud, noting she was under the impression that the Friends would not fight development on the flat land below the Midland right of way.
“Some people don’t know when they’ve won,” said Councilman Tony Hershey.
Jack Johnson, a Planning and Zoning Commission member and a Friends supporter, said he was shocked that the group might oppose the affordable housing project if the objectionable development on the slope is eliminated.
“We should be applauding these people,” Johnson said.
Behrendt then clarified his remarks, indicating the group would reserve judgment on the housing project until the proposal comes forward in more detail.
“We are not against it, we are not for it,” he said. “Like you, we will have to see what they propose.”
The council continued the hearing on Little Ajax to July 14 to give the applicants time to explore their latest idea.
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