Aspen, Pitkin County approach employee housing oppositely |

Aspen, Pitkin County approach employee housing oppositely

What a new ambulance facility near Aspen Valley Hospital would look like.
Courtesy rendering

When the Aspen Ambulance District goes before City Council tonight to seek approval for its new facility, it will follow the lead of Pitkin County in asking for a break on employee housing mitigation.

District officials have said the new, 13,000-square-foot facility will not generate new employees, and will continue to operate with its current 14 workers. Pitkin County is the owner and developer of the project.

Pitkin County also waived employee-housing mitigation when it approved its new administration building next to the courthouse, also saying it would not generate new employees.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board last month gave its blessing on the mitigation waiver for the ambulance facility. Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told the board that his government is focused on buying individual units to house its employees.

“We are providing housing at a faster clip than hiring employees,” he said.

The city of Aspen approaches new development the opposite way. When council approved the Aspen Police Department’s new public safety facility next to the county building, it accounted for additional square footage and what that would generate in new employees, said Community Development Director Jessica Garrow.

“The city has said this is new space and is upfront about that so the city is not treating itself differently than anyone else,” she said. “And that is the differentiation between how the county and city approach new space.”

Government and nonprofit organizations applying for land-use approvals fall under a classification of “essential public facilities,” and are able to follow different housing mitigation requirements, including auditing of employee generation after construction. Other entities like the Aspen Meadows and St. Mary Church have used this approach to employee housing mitigation with their current projects. It’s limited to commercial and lodging projects, which are required to mitigate 65 percent of the full-time employees generated as part of their construction project. 

Council can require 0 percent up to the commercial development mitigation rate of 60 percent when approving projects that fall under that classification.

For the public safety building and its new city offices at the Rio Grande parking garage, council chose to use the 60 percent rate. Combined, both developments equate to 125 new employees. There is on-site housing at the public safety building that will house over 23 workers. The rest of the mitigation will be provided with credits from existing housing that the city has in its inventory and has not been assigned to other projects, according to Garrow.

If the new facility is approved, the ambulance district’s staffing levels will be subject to audit when it applies for its certificate of occupancy, and then again in five years and 10 years. The county has a similar audit requirement for its administration building.

The existing facility on the hospital campus is aging, undersized and provides inadequate resources for ambulance equipment, staff and administration, according to a staff memo for tonight’s meeting.

The project is designed to meet current and future needs of the ambulance district. The proposed facility is a two-story, 33-foot tall building, with approximately 13,000 square feet.

The ground floor would be occupied with the bays for ambulances and other equipment, a classroom, a decontamination room and storage for supplies and crew gear. The second floor houses administrative offices, meeting rooms, sleeping quarters and a kitchen, dining and lounge space for staff on 24-hour shifts.