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Pitkin Iron development is ready for 15 lucky residents

Janet Urquhart

Local workers probably won’t care who built Pitkin Iron when they cross their fingers later this month and hope to win a home there.

But the project will likely get plenty of scrutiny in the ongoing debate over who’s better able to build employee housing – the public or private sector.

One thing is certain: 15 workers and local families will come away with homes on a scenic perch above the Roaring Fork River near Woody Creek.

Ten units are up for a lottery on Nov. 27. Interest is high, according to a housing office staffer, and some potential buyers submitted bids for units sight unseen. The project will be available for viewing, though, at a second open house on Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m.

The other five units will go to carpenters who worked on the project, though they must qualify under housing office guidelines. That provision was part of the deal developer Tim Semrau struck with Pitkin County commissioners when they picked him to build the project.

Semrau, a member of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Board and a private builder with two other affordable housing projects under his belt, is a vocal proponent of getting the private sector more involved in the construction of worker housing.

The private sector can do it quicker and cheaper, he claims.

He purchased the 39-acre Pitkin Iron site from Pitkin County in 1998 for $1.4 million – the same price the county bought it for in 1990. The county sought proposals to develop the site with a mix of free-market and deed-restricted worker housing and picked Semrau’s plan.

He proposed 15 worker units on the Highway 82 side of the river and four 5,800-square-foot free-market homes on the opposite bank, off River Road. The free-market component will subsidize the employee units.

Four triplexes containing a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units are now complete; two four-bedroom units in a duplex and one four-bedroom single-family home will be finished by the end of January, Semrau said. All are worker housing.

“I think they [the county] got a great deal. They got 38 bedrooms, they got

them done now after eight years of frustration and it didn’t cost them a penny,” Semrau said.

“It wasn’t the miracle in the mountains,” countered Commissioner Mick Ireland.

The project, which got its final plat approval in August 1999, didn’t go up any faster than, for example, the Housing Authority’s Seventh and Main project, Ireland said. That 11-unit, publicly-built project is now under construction at Seventh and Main streets.

And, said Ireland, the county agreed to restructure the financial deal it worked out with Semrau for his purchase of the property to make the project work.

“It was pretty much a sweet deal to make that work,” he said.

Seventh and Main, Semrau points out, will require a projected public subsidy of $158,000 per bedroom, including land and construction costs.

According to Lee Novak, project manager for the Housing Authority, the construction of Seventh and Main works out to $210 per square foot of heated space and $141 per square foot for total space in the development.

Semrau said Pitkin Iron cost $128 per square foot for heated space and $124 per square foot overall.

Up for sale in the Pitkin Iron lottery are: one one-bedroom unit for $125,900; five two-bedroom units for $216,800; two three-bedroom units for $228,600; one four-bedroom unit for $228,600; and one four-bedroom single-family home for $236,300. The bid period ends Nov. 22.

The free-market lots are as yet undeveloped. Semrau said he has not decided whether he will develop the homes himself or sell the lots.

The Pitkin Iron property was once occupied by Mid-Continent Resources and used as a transfer point for iron ore from mines in Castle Creek. The ore was brought by truck to the site, dropped into a chute and carried across the river on a conveyor belt to the railroad on the far side. The bridge that once held the conveyor is being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that will link Pitkin Iron to Woody Creek.


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