Aspen Skiing Co.’s affordable housing plan in Basalt stirs debate
Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal for a high-density affordable-housing project in Basalt was met Tuesday night with criticism from Willits homeowners, praise from the child care community and business owners and a mixed reception from town officials.
The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission didn’t take a formal vote. Instead it will aim to make an advisory vote May 7. Then the debate will advance to the Town Council.
Nine homeowners in Willits spoke against Skico’s plan for a 36-unit complex that would add 148 bedrooms to the affordable-housing inventory. Skico has to build two units of deed-restricted affordable housing to meet Willits Town Center’s requirements with the town. Skico is offering to build six additional deed-restricted units and make child care providers in the valley the highest priority for all eight units.
The remainder of the units would go to Skico employees. The company — one of the largest employers in the valley — is proposing some units with as many as six bedrooms that would be 70 square feet. Other units would be three- and four-bedrooms.
A common concern among Willits residents is the high density. Several expressed concern the units will be occupied by young party animals.
“It’s a dorm. It’s beer cans and bongs. That’s what this facility is,” said Willits resident and midvalley businessman Aaron Ward.
He said Willits residents don’t have a problem with affordable housing but, generally speaking, this is a project that will likely appeal to younger workers.
“The real problem is this is going to be a college dorm without an RA,” Ward said, referring to a resident assistant.
Skico officials insisted they run a tight ship and that the housing complex would be well-supervised. They bristled at the suggestion that the complex will be a dorm.
“We have a lot of units in this valley and we’ve been running them for a long time,” said Bill Tarallo, Skico’s director of housing. He said he oversees 650 housing units and has winter waiting lists for all of them.
All of Skico’s housing complexes have live-in managers with backups for when they are gone. There is video surveillance and employees know they would be in a tough position if they violated rules and got kicked out, given the housing shortage in the valley. He challenged people to check out any of Skico’s housing complexes.
“People can’t afford to get kicked out,” Tarallo said.
He said it is an incorrect assumption that the Willits project would target seasonal workers. It would be a mix of employees although Skico would prefer to house seasonal workers closer to upvalley and more long-term residents in Willits.
Similar debate continued through the two-hour, 15-minute meeting, with residents raising concerns of the project on property values and the family-oriented atmosphere of Willits and Skico officials trying to allay concerns.
Three advocates of child care services in the valley spoke in favor of Skico’s offer to make the eight units available for preschool workers. A petition signed by 15 representatives of Willits Town Center businesses was submitted in support of the project.
Then it came time for Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission members to show their hand. It was difficult to draw conclusions.
“You’re talking about some ideas that sound edgy to the community,” said Bill Maron, chair of the board. “If you guys could have a backup plan that could be very useful.”
However, Maron also commended Skico for voluntarily proposing an affordable-housing project. It’s only the third affordable-housing project that’s been proposed in Basalt in 20 years without the developer “being coerced,” Maron said.
He also said it would be a “waste” not to have a high-density project so close to a major bus stop on Highway 82. Skico’s site is along Willits Lane, about two blocks from the Willits bus stop.
Planning commission member Bernie Grauer noted he has been on the board for seven years and served a four-year term on the Town Council. There has been a consistent message from the community throughout that public service.
“I’ve heard for years that young people cannot afford to live in Basalt,” he said. At an average of $500 per bedroom per month, Skico’s project will be affordable, he said.
Grauer also noted that the Basalt land-use master plan identified Willits Town Center for high-density development. That means neighbors will be impacted for an identified community benefit, he said.
“We have to be bound by these greater community goals,” Grauer said.
But other planning commission members expressed some concerns. Gino Rossetti said the board had to look at Willits as a whole. Rossetti, an architect, also urged Skico to come up with a better design for its highly visible building.
“Putting a big black box like this, it really doesn’t appeal to me,” he said, labeling it a “dark and somber” building.
Willits Town Center architecture is a favorite target of lay people, particularly the latest apartment complex — unaffiliated with Skico — by the Willits Lane roundabout and East Valley Road.
Maron, also an architect, also urged Skico to revisit the design of their building.
“This sort of does have a Lord Voldemort look,” Maron said of Skico’s project.
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Vail broke the $200 lift ticket barrier during the holidays last winter. Aspen hasn’t topped the $200 mark yet, but both resorts are raising their peak prices this season.