Living the dream
Residents who live at Burlingame Ranch appear to be living the Aspen dream, with million-dollar views, a close-knit community and an opportunity to be homeowners in one of the nation’s most sought-after places.
It’s been a year and a half since the first 31 units at Aspen’s largest affordable housing project were offered to longtime locals. Since then, another 53 multi-family units have been finished and their occupants have moved in.
What was once an empty field across from Buttermilk and behind brush-covered Deer Hill is now a vibrant neighborhood, with children playing outside and their parents visiting one another over beers after work. Trikes, bikes and barbecue grills sit on patios and decks. People stroll the streets, waving at their neighbors and stopping for conversation.
Burlingame’s buildings are designed to be what architects call “livable neighborhoods,” with several clusters of multi-family buildings positioned around community green space.
Initiated by politicians and developed by city of Aspen, Burlingame has become its own town of sorts, and its residents are feeling the quirks and growing pains of a partially developed, government-sponsored, master-planned environment.
The project entails three building phases over several years on a total of 31 acres. When completed, Burlingame will be a 236-unit, 36-building development surrounded by hundreds of acres of open space.
One-, two- and three-bedroom units coexist in the same buildings to ensure that single people live next to families. Residents come from a broad range of the Aspen workforce.
“The people who live here are the people who run Aspen,” said Kristi Kavanaugh-Bradley, a Burlingame resident and group sales director at the St. Regis.
Kavanaugh-Bradley moved into a three-bedroom unit last fall with her husband, Jeff, a librarian at the Pitkin County Library, and their daughter, Josie. The couple is expecting another addition ” a baby girl ” this week.
For Doreen Clavell, who with her husband, Tom Egan, moved into a one-bedroom last October, life couldn’t be better.
“This is the best,” she said. “We’re thrilled.”
Clavell, who works at Aspen Highlands, and Egan, who works at the Aspen Historical Society, don’t have children but enjoy the family vibe at Burlingame.
“I love all the kids,” Clavell said one recent afternoon as she stood behind her unit and watched her neighbors’ toddlers play while the adults sipped beer and wine.
Before moving to Burlingame, Egan and Clavell lived in a cabin seven miles up the Fryingpan. Clavell drove to El Jebel to do her laundry. Now she has her own washer and dryer.
“This is my pride and joy,” Clavell said, pointing to the closet where she does her laundry in the comfort of her own home.
Jennifer Tindall, who works at Mountain Flowers, lives a few doors down from Clavell with Steve “Woody” Durso and their son, Nicholas.
Tindall said she previously rented an apartment at First Street and Hopkins Avenue in Aspen. It was convenient to live in town, she said, but it wasn’t optimal for the long term.
“We love it because we own it,” she said.
Homeowners love living at Burlingame, but there are kinks to be worked out.
Landscaping hasn’t been done in the neighborhood, which is only a third complete ” another 198 mutli-family units have yet to be built, plus 13 single-family homes.
Dirt patches line walkways and huge water pipes are exposed along the streets, which has some residents worried that children will crawl inside.
As of May 1, there was no property manager on site, leaving homeowners wondering who will do the upkeep.
The turn-key town has left its residents floundering on how to live in a cohesive neighborhood.
At the city’s request, residents are trying to form a homeowners association but they have had little guidance from city government on how to proceed.
“They haven’t fostered us communicating with each other,” said Ned Ryerson, who moved in last July with his wife, Heather, and their twins, who will turn 2 years old this month.
Since last fall, city officials have held a few meetings with a handful of homeowners but nothing much came out of them, residents said.
The driving force behind the newly-built community appears to be Burlingame’s governing board, which includes Steve Bossart, the project manager, Assistant City Manager Bentley Henderson and John Laatsch, project manager in City Hall’s asset management department.
Ryerson said there was no direction or mandate from City Hall to form an HOA until this past winter, but residents were busy during the ski season and nothing has taken shape as a result.
He added that it’s difficult to elect HOA board members when people don’t know their neighbors well enough to determine who will best represent them.
Dozens of homeowners gathered in the Burlingame Community Building during an informal meeting on April 30. Topics of discussion were appointing board members, improving bus service, landscaping, property management services and other items that weigh on residents’ minds.
Homeowners are upset that they are required to pay $60 a month for year-round bus service from Burlingame to Aspen, but the city cut service this spring to only once an hour from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. In the winter, the Burlingame bus ran twice an hour from 6:15 a.m. to 2 a.m.
“It’s supposed to be an auto disincentive,” Ryerson said, adding he wonders where his money is going if it’s not going toward year-round bus service.
Burlingame homeowner Dave Sims, who works at L’Hostaria at night, said it’s inconvenient to get to and from work without reliable bus service.
“I drive quite often,” he said.
And some homeowners have encountered defects within their units ” one resident’s shelving in her closet collapsed recently and others are noticing poor construction in other areas of their homes.
“I didn’t expect it be high-end,” said one homeowner.
Ryerson, who moved with his family from a Willits townhome in Basalt, said he paid for a second parking space but never got a straight answer from city officials about its location. It wasn’t until the snow melted recently that the city could tell him where it was.
He said he pays $100 more a month in fees at Burlingame than he did in Basalt but he isn’t complaining too loudly ” life is good at Burlingame, for the most part.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Ryerson said.
Despite Burlingame’s growing pains, it’s clear there is a need for it. Over the course of a year, 84 units were offered through three housing lotteries and nearly 750 bids were received from high-priority applicants.
“My sense is that it’s meeting the demand as well as the desire,” Henderson said.
There are a range of income categories at Burlingame, with most of them moderately priced. It’s likely that future offerings will be geared toward those who make $50,000 to $100,000 a year, Henderson said.
From what Mayor Mick Ireland can see, Burlingame has been a success.
“The social climate is what I had hoped for,” he said. “People who have children have a place to call home. It’s kids and bicycles and I’m a big fan of that.
“There are a lot of locals living there.”
Ireland noted that public officials realized in the early 1990s that their original idea ” affordable housing would allow locals to save money and then buy into the free market ” wasn’t realistic. Instead, the affordable housing program allowed people to move from affordable unit to unit, as their families and salaries grew.
That was the case for Sims, who with his wife, Karrie, and their two children, moved from the Bavarian housing complex off Main Street to Burlingame. Before that, Karrie rented an apartment at Centennial.
“I would imagine we’re done [moving around],” Karrie Sims said. “We love it here.”
There was much controversy surrounding Burlingame during its inception, which required two public votes, neither of which asked for tax increases. A 2000 ballot measure asked for the property to be annexed into the city and developed by the city government. It passed with 60 percent in favor.
A second ballot measure in May 2005 asked voters to approve a 236-unit development plan, which also passed by a 60-40 margin, Ireland said.
And now a third vote is likely in order to finish what was started.
Building phases two and three at Burlingame, which will cost an estimated $65 million, will require a voter-approved bond this fall.
“We were fortunate to be able to pay for phase one out of pocket,” Henderson said. “The city isn’t in a position to cash-fund phases two and three.”
But the funding for Burlingame will not require any new taxes, he added. The bonds will allow City Hall to borrow against future revenue from the 1 percent Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) and the housing portion of the 0.45 percent sales tax. The ballot question will ask voters to renew the two taxes that feed the city’s housing fund, which is nearly depleted.
The bonds depend on renewing the RETT, which expires in 2024, and the sales tax dedicated to housing, which sunsets in 2010.
How long those taxes should be extended is undetermined, but it must be at least 30 years, the length of the repayment schedule of the bonds.
The RETT and housing portion of the sales tax together generated nearly $11 million in 2007. City financiers estimate the sales tax, if extended, would grow at a rate of 4 percent. The RETT is predicted to grow at 5.5 percent, at least.
Money for the Burlingame project will be part of a larger ballot question that could ask voters to approve up to $93 million in bonds to fund several projects, including paying back $31 million in 2007 land acquisitions by City Hall for employee housing.
Without the extended tax revenue, the housing fund could only cash-fund 263 units over the next 30 years, which isn’t even close to City Hall’s ambitious plans.
“It would be about six to 10 units a year with the cash on hand, without any new financing structure,” Henderson said.
Just like the previous votes, Ireland anticipates opposition to the fall ballot measure.
Citizens already are questioning the original cost estimates for Burlingame. According to Marilyn Marks, a member of the city’s citizen budget task force, voters were told that it would cost $62,522 per unit but that figure has leapt to nearly $300,000.
Henderson told The Aspen Times last month that the average per-unit subsidy was about $266,000, including land costs and infrastructure improvements. The entire first phase, including street and utility improvements, cost $56 million, Henderson said.
According to campaign materials leading up to the last vote, Marks has also said, the original total cost for all phases of Burlingame was $74 million. That number has climbed to more than $120 million, based on constructing the units at $350 a square foot, Henderson said. City officials have said recently that skyrocketing costs in construction have increased the pricetag of Burlingame.
If approved by voters, utility and rough grading work will be done this winter. The 24-month project will begin in 2009, Henderson said.
City Councilman Dwayne Romero suggested adding more units to lower the per-unit subsidy, especially in the wake of rising construction costs.
He added that whatever problems are occurring at Burlingame will be addressed by its residents.
“It’s a cool neighborhood and they are thrilled to be there,” Romero said. “Clearly the move-in and transition friction points need to be resolved.”
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It’s hard to fight City Hall and even harder to fight well-funded neighbors who don’t want any development near them, a local man has realized. So he settled for less than what he and his partner bought the property for.