Put Aspen Mass on back burner, Pitco tells city | AspenTimes.com

Put Aspen Mass on back burner, Pitco tells city

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Though Pitkin County hasn’t entirely ruled out the possibility of affordable housing at Aspen Mass, commissioners advised Aspen to put the project on the back burner for now.

City Councilman Tim Semrau repeatedly pressed commissioners for a definitive answer on whether the city can pursue housing on the property or not during a joint meeting on Tuesday.

“Are we supposed to take it off the table? Is it alive? Is it now not ever a possibility?” Semrau said. “I’m trying to find out if our go-ahead project is no longer a go.”

“Never say never,” was essentially the commissioners’ response.

The city and county paid $1.65 million for the property, located near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, with housing in mind. Now, the parcel is poised to be downzoned with the county’s proposed land-use revisions, precluding its use for high-density housing.

Given the city’s investment in the property, council members have been cringing over the potential loss of the site for housing.

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“My concern is the county’s screwing us on Aspen Mass,” Councilman Tony Hershey said before Tuesday’s discussion.

The city put up $1 million of the purchase price and spent $75,000 on a competition to produce a winning design for 120 units at the site. And it recently hired consultants to analyze the property within the context of various options to construct worker housing.

“It’s not my fault that it was analyzed in your report,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, calling on both governments to do nothing with the property for the foreseeable future. The city should concentrate its housing efforts within the urban growth boundary the county has proposed around Aspen, he said.

Other commissioners, however, said they would like to leave the door open for housing on the property.

“I do not want to preclude the opportunity to put affordable housing somewhere outside the urban growth boundary at some point in the future,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “I don’t blame the city for being alarmed by the potential, proposed downzoning of Aspen Mass.”

Clapper suggested a zoning “overlay” that would identify potential sites for housing outside the urban growth boundary. Commissioner Shellie Roy said she is tempted to zone Aspen Mass for affordable housing with the rezoning.

“Actually, I would urge you to do that,” Semrau said.

The strategic housing plan prepared by outside consultants and presented to the council and commissioners on Tuesday places a relatively low priority on Aspen Mass, relative to other public projects the city could pursue.

The recommended time line calls for construction of housing on the parcel to commence in mid-2009. By then, the county may agree the time is right to build there, commissioners suggested.

“I think the experts’ estimate of when that should come on line is right on,” Roy said.

“I think Aspen Mass is less of a priority than anything else you’ve listed,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland. “Any number of projects, to me, come ahead of it.”

The consultants did, however, conclude Aspen Mass is necessary if the city is to reach its housing goals. The study prioritized the six potential projects identified by the city and recommended a strategy to build them all over the course of the next decade.

The ranking “may be a moot point, in that we’re recommending or think it’s prudent to go ahead and build all of these things,” said Walter Kieser, managing principal with Denver-based Economic and Planning Systems, Inc., which prepared the report.

Ireland suggested the city, county and Snowmass Village Town Council get together to discuss the future of the Highway 82/Brush Creek Road intersection.

Aspen Country Day School is eyeing a new campus on another parcel near the rural intersection that could change the area’s character considerably, Ireland noted. If a school and teacher housing goes up across the highway, housing at Aspen Mass may be viewed in a new light, he said.

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