New Aspen employee-housing project clears big hurdle |

New Aspen employee-housing project clears big hurdle

A developer's efforts to raze and replace the apartment complex at 404 Park Circle won approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission last month. Peter Fornell hopes to break ground as soon as the late spring.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

A new employee-housing complex in Aspen has moved closer to reality for developer Peter Fornell.

Fornell won approval from the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission last month to redevelop 404 Park Circle into a two-building complex that is intended to provide housing for 66 full-time workers. Also included would be a 28-space underground parking garage.

The current complex, the Park Avenue Apartments, is one of the oldest apartment buildings in Aspen, built in the 1960s. It comprises 14  free-market rental units. Tenants there have been on notice for years that their days living there could be numbered, Fornell said.

The two new buildings, which would be separated by a courtyard with a pool and spa, will have a combination of 27 Category 3 and 4 units that will be available through the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s lottery. One unit would be classified as resident-occupied, which allows owners to have a higher household income and a greater limit on their assets than Category owners.

All told, the project would include 13 one-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units, and 13 three-bedroom units.

Fornell said that as the project’s developer, he will try to set aside spots for displaced tenants who are eligible buy the new units.

“Of those who vacate, I’m going to try to place those people back in who qualify,” he said.

Provided he secures the building permits to get the project going, Fornell said he hopes to break ground this spring at the earliest or the fall at the latest.

Fornell is a trailblazer of sorts in the city’s housing certificate program, which private developers use to build housing and sell the full-time employee credits to developers seeking to offset the required housing for new projects.

Fornell started in 2012 with the eight-unit Ajax Apartments Condominiums, located at 301 E. Hyman Ave., which was worth 14 employee-housing certificates.

The Park Avenue development is his fourth project that’s part of the program.

It also would close the chapter on an apartment complex that has been at the center of uncertainty for years.

The property’s history took a dubious turn in the late 2000s and early 2010s. During that time, its two-thirds owner, Thomas Petters of Minnesota, was jailed for running a Ponzi scheme. Peters was part of Aspenwalk LLC, which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2010.

At one time, Aspenwalk had an application before Aspen City Council seeking to demolish the complex so it could build 14 free-market condominium units, 24 employee-housing units and 53 underground parking spaces.

The property went into receivership in 2011, with Bank of America selling it to Bald Mountain Development for $3.7 million at foreclosure in 2013.

Fornell bought the Park Avenue complex for $4.1 million in December 2014. It sits on two-fifths of an acre of land and is located at the intersection of Park Circle and Park Avenue, east of the downtown core.

By a 5-0 vote on Dec. 20, Planning and Zoning approved Fornell’s applications for growth management affordable housing, certificates of affordable-housing credits and a dimensional variance for the location of a trash enclosure. The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority’s board of directors also gave it unanimous support at its Dec. 7 meeting.

The Planning and Zoning decision is not subject to City Council review.

While the project falls 15 parking spaces shy of city requirements, that deficit will be offset by the developer’s pledge to provide both a Car-to-Go and We-Cycle memberships to each unit, according to city documents.

A Planning and Zoning memo noted that the size of the units are a concern. The units, on average, fall 17 percent below the minimum sizes set by the housing authority. However, housing authority guidelines allow for a 20 percent leeway if the developer provides residents with other such amenities as sufficient storage, above-average natural light, efficient layout and nearby public amenities.

“On one hand, staff remains concerned about the intersection of the reduced units’ sizes, the limited storage and parking conditions,” read a Dec. 20-dated memo from the city’s Community Development Department to Planing and Zoning. “On the other hand, staff recognizes the amenities that it offers, the location of the project and the creation of 27 Category 3 and 4 affordable-housing units. Additionally, staff recognizes the recommendation of APCHA’s Staff and Board in support of this project.”


See more