Officials bend the rules a bit to help hospital, MAA with housing |

Officials bend the rules a bit to help hospital, MAA with housing

Janet Urquhart

Housing officials and county commissioners are willing to waive a few rules to accommodate a joint employee housing project involving Aspen Valley Hospital and the Music Associates of Aspen.

The hospital and MAA, which runs the Aspen Music Festival and School, are pursuing plans to build a rental housing project on land at the Aspen Airport Business Center. Between 20 and 30 units are envisioned to serve AVH for nine months during the winter and the MAA for the summer months, according to Bill Brunworth, project manager for AVH.

“I think this is exactly the kind of partnership we need to be fostering,” Commissioner Leslie Lamont said Wednesday.

A few Housing Authority rules, however, stand in the way of making the project workable, said planner Alan Richman, representing AVH and the MAA.

Both entities may want to place occupants in the units who exceed the income and asset caps established by the housing office for rental housing. In addition, the MAA needs to charge rents that exceed what the housing office allows for the units it plans to rent to instructors who come for the summer music festival, Richman said.

The MAA cannot afford to subsidize its share of the cost of building the units and so must recoup its costs through the rents, he said.

“The point is to charge precisely what it costs for their share of the project,” Richman said.

The MAA must strike a “delicate balance” in deciding what it charges in rent, added John Doremus, an MAA trustee.

“They’re going to be better than average units,” he said. “These people come from a lifestyle that’s not dirtbag.”

The MAA is in desperate need of rental housing for instructors and has found it increasingly difficult to line up housing in town each summer, Richman said. The hospital, meanwhile, is paying exorbitant subsidies on the free market to house the additional professional staff it employs during the ski season, Brunworth said.

In addition to seasonal housing needs, both entities plan to use a few units for long-term, year-round housing for staffers.

Both entities also asked if the housing they build can count as mitigation for future expansion of their operations. The hospital, especially, wants credit for the housing, Richman said.

“We have trouble seeing what the downside is to the credit – the housing is coming up front,” he said. If a future hospital expansion proposal is rejected, the community still gets the housing, Richman pointed out.

Pressed by housing board member George Burson, Brunworth said AVH may ask the county to count some of the units in the joint project as mitigation for a planned medical office building on the hospital campus.

The hospital has asked for an extension of its approvals for the office building, which has languished on a back burner since it was OK’d in August 1997. The approval called for 12 rental units with the office building, 10 senior housing units and seven employee townhomes.

Most of the public officials agreed in general to all of the requests, though several stressed they want to retain the right to rent any unused units to the general work force at the rent levels and income restrictions outlined in the housing guidelines.

And Lamont said she would be less inclined to let the MAA count its share of the housing as mitigation for future development since it plans to exceed both the income/asset caps and rent caps with its use of the units.

“It’s clear that these are not mitigation units for the MAA – they’re desperately needed rental units,” she said.

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