Aspen government on track to build close to 300 affordable housing units in next five years
Aspen’s elected officials agreed Tuesday that the city should move forward with developing nearly 270 workforce housing units at a cost of upward of $130 million.
Aspen City Council, of which three members were sworn in Monday night after winning the election earlier this spring, directed staff to continue their work on community outreach on possible development of the Harbert Lumber property and a third phase of Burlingame.
Both properties are owned by the city and are near the Aspen Business Center.
The lumber yard will require a public land-use hearing process to determine density. An estimated range might be between 160 and 220 units of new affordable housing between the Burlingame phase 3 and lumber yard projects, according to Chris Everson, the city’s affordable-housing development project manager.
Tuesday’s work session was a check in by Everson and Interim City Manager Sara Ott to get direction on a work plan for the city’s 150 fund, which relies on revenue from the Real Estate Transfer Tax and developer fees.
The 150 fund has enough money in it to cover the costs of the lumber yard and Burlingame projects, along with another land acquisition, according to Everson.
Burlingame has been estimated to cost $60 million, with the next phase of Burlingame projected at around $44 million.
The next move by the city will be to hire a firm to do community outreach around possible development scenarios at the lumber yard.
Outreach will occur for Burlingame as well, mostly with existing homeowners to learn how the city can improve as a developer.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she remembers how useful it was to do community outreach before building Benedict Commons, one of the city’s first affordable-housing developments in downtown Aspen.
“I don’t think that is a step you can short cut,” she said.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed, noting that it has been eight years since the approval at Burlingame occurred and residents could use a refresher.
Council agreed to hold off on two already-approved single-family home sites to see if there is a better use for that land, such as a child care facility.
The city is limited on how much it can build at Burlingame due to a density agreement struck in 2009 and approved in 2011 by ordinance.
There are currently 177 units in the development, with just over 80 left that are allowed to be built.
Construction at Burlingame is expected to begin in 2021 and the lumber yard in 2024.
Some council members said they would like to accelerate the start date of the projects as much as possible.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he would like to consider financing the projects to provide more housing sooner.
“Construction inflation is far outpacing our returns, so to me it makes sense to finance,” he said. “Anything we can do to build sooner … to me is a no-brainer.”
Richards said she’d like to look at financing options and be sure not to get the city too encumbered.
Most of council disagreed with Councilman Skippy Mesirow’s desire to slow the roll on the projects and first take a broader look at affordable housing as it relates to community needs and desires.
“I’m concerned about chasing butterflies and not seeing the big picture,” he said.
Richards responded by saying that the city’s guiding document, the Aspen Area Community Plan, calls for housing 60% of the workforce, and the local government is woefully below that number.
Mullins agreed, saying those who ran for office this spring ran on a housing platform.
“People are expecting Burlingame and the lumber yard,” she said, adding that constituents won’t stomach another study. “This is a very unique opportunity that I think needs to be done sooner than later.”
Mayor Torre said the outreach process will answer a lot of the answers Mesirow may be seeking.
Concurrently to Burlingame and the lumber yard, a third project that could deliver as many as 48 units is being worked on by the city for municipal employees.
Preliminary plans are underway to build another phase of housing near the Thomas Reservoir on a parcel in the Water Place development where the city has about two dozen homes for employees already.
The city pays for its internal housing program through what’s known as the 505 fund, which is funded by all the departments in the city.
Each department allocates a certain percentage of their budget into the 505 fund each year. It grows about $2 million annually. The fund balance is between $3 and $4 million.
The project is estimated to cost between $30 million and $40 million, a price tag that Torre said he felt was high.
Jack Wheeler, president of Concept One Group, the chosen owner’s rep on the project, said the site is challenging to develop and could run up the costs.
He also said it’s not known yet how much square footage will be developed and what materials will be used, so the price tag can fluctuate.
Scott Miller, the city’s public works director and interim assistant city manager, said the development team is playing it safe by budgeting high.
Torre responded by saying that practice can be dangerous.
“When we set high estimates they get met,” he said.
Four contracts for all three projects will be in front of City Council for approval June 24.
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