Mayor: ‘I can hear champagne popping all over Aspen’; city council approval puts Lumberyard closer to reality

An artist rendering of the Aspen Lumberyard affordable housing project.
Cushing Terrell/Courtesy image

Aspen City Council on Tuesday voted 4 to 1 to approve ordinance 10, which outlines entitlements designed to attract a developer-partner to the $400 million Lumberyard Project, the biggest and most ambitious affordable housing project Aspen has ever tackled.

Councilman Bill Guth, the sole dissenting vote, thanked the more than 150 members of the public who weighed in by email, snail mail, and in person.

“I think this is a good project,” he said, adding that he is worried that the Lumberyard will not attract the developer it needs to make the plan a reality. “The execution has been less than ideal. … I am very scared about the impact on traffic flow.”

“I can hear champagne popping all over Aspen,” Mayor Torre’s responded to the vote. He added that it was hard for him to understand how one could favor affordable housing, yet oppose the Lumberyard.

Artists’ renderings depict the Lumberyard’s 277-deed restricted units, with 467-bedrooms divided among three buildings, to be built just off Highway 82, behind the Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) building.

City staff presented amended and revised language to the ordinance in an effort to ameliorate worries expressed by the public at the recent Lumberyard discussion. For example, MRA’s Dylan Johns had expressed concern that Lumberyard tenants’ vehicles might interfere with emergency operations. City staff suggested that language could be adopted that allowed MRA to use Lumberyard parking in emergencies.

Johns attended Tuesday night’s discussion and suggested a fence or some sort of protective barrier that would prevent curious neighbors from wandering into MRA during an emergency operation when they noticed first responders gathering. That detail could be addressed in a future discussion, he was told.

A key point of debate has been whether a Lumberyard applicant’s work history should be used to prioritize his or her chances of renting a unit. Council members voted to reserve the right to set priorities in the future.

But the details, such as whether how long an applicant worked in Aspen should shape priorities, would be hammered out in the future. The concerns about fairness weigh both, first, the loyalty of longtime Aspen workers who may have sacrificed financially for their jobs here, and second, the necessity of housing newcomers who will fill essential jobs that simply do not pay high enough wages to cover Aspen’s rents.

Much of the council’s discussion in 2023 centered on ensuring plans for the Lumberyard held enough flexibility in order to attract potential partners. It was agreed there would not be less than 277 units, but the number should not exceed 304 units. Council members wanted to have flexibility on the number of Lumberyard parking spaces for a future developer who may possibly offer a creative new transportation service to downtown or offer a discount on rent to tenants who agreed not to bring a car to park in the Lumberyard’s parking lot.

Over the years, council members had advocated for a childcare provider to be allowed on part of the Lumberyard referred to as Parcel 4. Community Development Deputy Director Ben Anderson explained that the current language would preclude a commercial use for that parcel, such as a lodge or inn, but would allow a childcare provider.

“Childcare is (considered) a conditional use,” he said, explaining the term means childcare “is not viewed as having a negative impact on the neighborhood.”

Guth suggested allowing additional uses, such as a doctor’s office, that would benefit tenants and offer some additional revenue to a developer-partner.

“We’d like future council to have the authority over that (decision on use),” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein, a supporter of the childcare idea, and Torre agreed.


See more