Pitkin County debates its housing options
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
REDSTONE – Investing in the city of Aspen’s Burlingame Ranch worker housing development is not the only option available to Pitkin County as it looks to best leverage about $9 million in accumulated housing funds, commissioners agreed during a retreat last week in Redstone.
That was about the only conclusion commissioners could agree upon as they debated whether the county housing dollars should be spent in Aspen or elsewhere in the valley.
Commissioners have been mulling their options for about a year, ever since they first announced they had money they’d like to spend on worker housing and put out a call for partnerships and proposals. Some 30 to 40 opportunities have been analyzed, but commissioners have yet to pull the trigger on any of them.
“The only thing holding it up is the failure to make a decision,” County Attorney John Ely told commissioners, some of whom are apparently frustrated by the inaction.
“I think that’s why we haven’t moved forward on the list of 40 – there has not been consensus,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “I don’t want to do something just to have something done.”
Richards and fellow Commissioner George Newman both advocated joining forces with the city. Burlingame represents an opportunity to get housing built relatively quickly, Richards pointed out.
The city is preparing to design and build the remaining 167 units at Burlingame, and looking for others to help absorb the estimated $78 million to $85 million price tag.
Other commissioners weren’t ruling Burlingame out, but until the city can provide detailed information about the per-unit cost to subsidize housing there, they weren’t willing to commit any money to the project.
“I will not close the door at Burlingame,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “I want to know what we’re getting for what we’re investing.”
Commissioner Michael Owsley expressed reluctance to merge the county’s identity with the city’s at Burlingame, noting the project carries some negative political baggage.
Burlingame will eventually be constructed regardless of the county’s participation, Commissioner Patti Clapper pointed out. Spending county money there doesn’t add to the overall housing pool, she said.
Clapper also suggested the county buy the city’s former animal-shelter property at the Aspen Business Center, where a five-unit project has already been designed, and get it built.
Hatfield pondered other properties the city has purchased for housing, suggesting the county try to move a project on one of those parcels forward.
“We haven’t had this discussion,” he said. “It’s always been about Burlingame.”
The county is looking to produce housing both for its own employees and the general work force, but there was disagreement about where that housing should be. Commissioners expressed varying degrees of willingness to look at opportunities in communities outside of the Aspen area.
“To me, Basalt is not that far away, except in a big snowstorm,” Hatfield said. “I think it’s part of our community.”
Richards said she’d consider the portion of Basalt that is located in Pitkin County for a project, but balked at spending Pitkin County money to house employees in Glenwood Springs, for example.
“I think it’s absurd,” she said.
Still, commissioners are scheduled to visit a Carbondale property that contains three separate, small units and has been identified as a possible investment. It is envisioned as rental housing for people employed by county government.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity elsewhere,” said Owsley, voicing a willingness to consider sites throughout the valley. “I’m much more interested in being flexible, being opportunistic.”
There is a desire, though, among younger county employees and many people the county recruits to reside in the Aspen area, staffers said.
“It’s not the skiing. The juice is in Aspen,” Ely said.
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