Pitco ready to build Stillwater | AspenTimes.com

Pitco ready to build Stillwater

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

With a lawsuit hanging over its head, Pitkin County will nonetheless break ground on a new affordable housing complex and see what happens.

Shaw Construction has received notice that it will be awarded the $4.3 million construction contract for the 17-unit Stillwater Ranch project, though county commissioners have yet to formally approve the agreement.

A year’s worth of construction is scheduled to commence in August, with a lottery to award the units to qualified workers planned in late October 2003, according to Jay Leavitt, director of development and construction for the city of Aspen. (Leavitt and other development staffers formally with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority are now employees of the city. The county is contracting with them for its project.)

The county hopes to have all the units sold before the end of 2003, as it intends to cover the upfront costs internally, borrowing money from other county funds at an interest rate of 2.5 to 3 percent. Those loans must be repaid by the end of next year to avoid additional interest costs and covering a year-end deficit with the county’s cash-strapped general fund, according to a report from Leavitt.

With potential delays resulting from a lawsuit filed by neighbors of the project, however, commissioners expressed worry about the tight schedule during a joint meeting with the housing board last week.

“I’m very concerned about the time frames we’ve set,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “The minute we put that shovel in the ground, we’re going to have an injunction. I think that’s an issue we need to address.”

“We’re sued and it takes six months – what if it takes a year?” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.

The county has no choice but to proceed and see what happens, staffers and elected officials ultimately concurred.

“If there is a delay, we know the construction costs will inevitably go up,” said County Manager Hilary Smith.

Shaw hopes to get the groundwork done and the project enclosed by winter, according to Clark Atkinson, division manager for Shaw Construction.

“If we start the project in November, there are going to be costs,” he said. “We’ll work with you, but we can’t just go out on a string forever.”

City Councilman Tim Semrau, chairman of the housing board, suggested the county test the waters at the Stillwater site.

“Why don’t you move a piece of earth-moving equipment out there and see if there’s an injunction,” he said.

Or, Semrau said, the county could seek a foundation permit and begin that work before August and find out what legal action might ensue.

Stillwater Ranch, to be constructed on four-plus acres along the Roaring Fork River, east of Aspen, is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, Vernon and Kathleen Friesenhahn and Roll International Corp.

The Resnicks and Roll International own a mansion off Stillwater Road, near the housing project, while the Friesenhahns own a home at the corner of Stillwater Road and Highway 82, across the river from the housing site.

The suit maintains that multifamily residences were not permitted on the property under its prior zoning and that the county overstepped its bounds in approving a 17-unit townhouse project on the property.

In addition, the suit maintains, the county gave “preferred treatment” to the land-use application for the project, because both the county and the Housing Authority want to see affordable housing built on the land.

The case has not yet been heard by a Pitkin County District Court judge. There have been settlement talks, but the dispute has not been resolved, according to John Ely, county attorney.

“There have been some discussions, there may be more discussions – I don’t know,” he said.

The total budget for Stillwater Ranch is $5.72 million, including construction and “soft costs” such as planning and architectural fees, permit costs, and utility and impact fees.

The county will put in $2.38 million, using funds that have been paid by private developers as payment in lieu of constructing affordable housing in other projects.

Through the sale of the units, the county expects to recoup the other $3,335,000 in the total cost of the project.

The proposed budget includes the sale of two one-bedroom units for $87,138 each; two one-bedroom units for $139,874 apiece; six three-bedroom units priced at $165,315; and seven three-bedroom units for $279,645 each.

If delays drive up the cost of the project, the county could adjust the sales categories to boost revenues, housing board members advised commissioners.

In addition, the county has received inquires from private entities, including Aspen Valley Hospital, that would like to purchase units in the complex, Smith said.

“There has been interest in the community for private partnerships on this project. It is something that is out there,” she said.

Hatfield said he is adamantly opposed to privatizing some of the units in the small project, cutting down the number of units available to the general work force.

The county needn’t worry about a lack of interest from the public in bidding on what are expected to be highly desirable units in a scenic locale, said Cindy Christensen, interim housing director.

“You will have zero problem selling these things. You don’t have to worry about selling these, believe me,” she said.

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