Property owner seeks new path in affordable housing
ASPEN – An Aspen property owner hopes to devise a new way to build and sell affordable housing. Peter Fornell, who owns property at 301 W. Hyman Ave., has been in discussions with city officials about creating transferable credits so that they can be sold to individuals who need to house employees as a result of developing.The concept will be discussed in detail with the Aspen City Council on Monday, according to Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon.It would be similar to the city’s transferable development rights (TDRs) strategy, which was established as part of Aspen’s historic preservation program. Under certain cases, the government issues development rights to homeowners who are limited on their properties. TDRs can be sold so others can build on their lots.Fornell, who represents his brother-in-law, John Cooper, also an owner of the West Hyman Avenue property, said he plans to build one-bedroom apartments that would house 14 workers, who would be chosen through the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA).Fornell would then be credited the equivalent of 14 full-time employee (FTE) credits.”This is a new way to create affordable housing without the city having to create a development,” he said. “It gives me a way to make the best and highest use of my property.”The city requires developers to provide affordable housing for 60 percent of the employees generated by their projects, either by paying a cash-in-lieu fee, or providing it on site or elsewhere. Bendon said it costs about $200,000 to build an employee housing unit.”There has been a lot of discussion of whether that’s a realistic cost,” he said, adding land costs, entitlements and building materials have increased in recent years. “It could go up in the future.”Just how much Fornell’s credits could be worth is dependent on what the market will bear. Regardless, if the program is approved by the council, it could benefit both the individual and the community, Bendon said.”It’s speculative on his part to proceed this way,” he said. “But it allows the free market to speculate while serving a public need.”Bendon said the idea has been discussed in the past but wasn’t put into practice because the city’s TDR program hadn’t been fully established. But now that it has and is successful in the free market, affordable housing credits may be next.Fornell said he’s limited on what he can do with the Hyman Avenue property because of how it’s zoned, so building affordable housing is the best use for it. “It might be a while before I sell those FTE credits,” he said. “But it makes good financial sense and to develop affordable housing so people can use those units.”Fornell said he is preparing an application that will seek to develop affordable housing units on the property. Bendon plans to ask the council next Monday if the city will sponsor a code amendment that would allow the transfer of housing credits.Individuals can’t introduce code amendments, but city staff, the council or the planning and zoning commission can sponsor them, Bendon noted.Fornell earlier this year had proposed to trade his West Hyman Avenue property with the city for its property located at 312 W. Hyman Ave. The city in 2007 bought the chalet-style house from Jordie Gerberg for $3.5 million.But Fornell recently withdrew his offer, saying his latest proposal is a better deal for himself, the city and the community.City officials were criticized after the purchase of the 1,536-square-foot, two-story duplex, which was built in 1956 by Genevieve Birlauf Leininger and her father.The acquisition was in direct response to Gerberg’s intent to sell it and have it demolished to make way for a new home. Instead, the city bought it and designated it as historic, which prevents it from being torn down.Gerberg is still living in the house and leasing it from the city on a month-to-month basis.The city opened a public bidding process earlier this year. Interested parties had until Jan. 21 to submit proposals that included either an offer to purchase the property, or trade their property in exchange for the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. It’s listed with the city’s real estate broker, Greg Hunter of Morris & Fyrwald, for $3.5 million.The council met in executive session Tuesday to entertain an offer by an unknown bidder.”Nothing has been finalized,” said City Attorney John Worcester, adding any negotiated sale will come before the council in a public meeting, which could be next firstname.lastname@example.org
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