New multi-million dollar child care facility at play in Aspen Council’s goal for next year

Child care, environment and affordable housing identified as most important areas of work in coming year

Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

Aspen City Council agreed during its annual goal setting retreat on Tuesday to pursue developing a new child care facility at Burlingame Ranch, a housing subdivision across from Buttermilk ski area.

The cost estimate for an 8,345-square-foot, two-level child care center is roughly $8 million and would accommodate 70 children, including infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

All five council members agreed at the end of their seven-hour session that the municipal government should begin looking at how to facilitate access to child care with increased capacity, and the city-owned Burlingame site is the best option.

“We had reservation about this location because of the access to the road, the turn-off, the location (but) I don’t hear anything better,” Mayor Torre said.

How it gets paid for is something city officials will pursue with potential partnerships with employers and governments, as well as new revenue streams and other undetermined funding sources.

Council identified child care as a critical goal to tackle for the next year.

“The quality of life and the people who make this economy sustainable are the workers, and the workers are the ones who need to focus on child care,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said.

Shirley Ritter, director of the city’s Kids First child care program, said during Tuesday’s retreat that increasing access for parents keeps them living and working here.

“We are dealing with a continuing need for employees and economic recovery that affects child care and how child care affects the community,” she said. “Our proposal is that you continue to make the creation of additional child care capacity a critical community goal and that aligns with a safe, lived-in community, and physical and economic vitality.”

Ritter said there is money available this year to begin the land use and entitlement process.

City Manager Sara Ott said Ritter has been working with staff in the capital asset department on writing a request for proposals to find a land use planner and architectural team for the project as a starting point.

Having conversations with the neighbors about their concerns and desires will be incorporated into the physical design, Ott added.

She noted that Burlingame is one of the better options for this kind of facility because it is owned by the city.

“You as council can control more on land you own rather than using someone else’s land or building,” Ott said.

The parcel is located on the southern portion of the site, and under the approved planned development it is referenced as a park area where a child care facility is an allowable use, according to Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing project manager.

Such a facility likely will need to be added to the planned development, which would require a public hearing.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards said she is all for moving forward with a new facility at Burlingame, where hundreds of local employees live.

“I think it totally makes sense,” she said. “I think sometimes you have to be ready to build it, have the entitlements, be able to show what the plans are and then it’s a lot easier to try to solicit partnership revenues.”

In addition to child care, council also agreed affordable housing and establishing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste should be goals for the next year.

Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

Because the affordable housing issue is so complex, council members decided that it needs to hold a mini retreat on the issue and develop a multi-year strategic plan for the city, with philosophical direction on how to best approach it in the future.

The current work on the third phase of Burlingame Ranch, plans for the lumberyard site at the Airport Business Center and land use code changes that has development mitigating growth at a higher rate will continue.

The bigger questions of what segment of the workforce the city should be responsible for housing; future funding sources and partnerships; more staffing for the existing Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority; maintaining the existing inventory; and a myriad of other dilemmas will attempt to be addressed in a city-focused retreat.

Ideas include buy downs of existing buildings, new construction of units, securing deed restrictions on apartments that are due to sunset in the coming years and more.

“I’m looking forward to getting to that retreat where we take that list apart,” Torre said. “I want to do it all and I just know we can’t.

“It’s a margarita appetite on a beer budget.”

A significant portion of Tuesday’s retreat also was dedicated to council’s desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste.

That could be done through mandated composting, diverting construction materials from the local landfill and electrifying buildings, among other measures.

“Solid waste, greenhouse gas are probably my No. 1 priority, environmental progress is something I’m really supportive of,” Torre said. “We are a hyper consumer community and we have got to deal with the waste we are putting out.”

City staff will formulate council’s three goals and bring them back in the form of action plans, resolutions and ordinances in the coming months.

Council members said they considered the retreat a success and were satisfied in limiting areas of work to three goals.

“To be able to pose all of these different concerns we have … all of them can be toned down to three areas and good things happen in threes,” Hauenstein said. “I think three things to really focus on is so much better than nine or 10.”