Richards wants city to rethink housing plans at Burlingame
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Aspen may have the means to boost its housing dollars and avoid including RO lots in its planned affordable housing project at Burlingame Ranch, according to City Councilwoman Rachel Richards.
She urged the council this week to schedule a work session soon to brainstorm on ways to leave RO, or resident occupied, lots out of the Burlingame mix in favor of less expensive categories of worker housing.
A contract to extend the road and utilities to the Burlingame site – at an estimated cost of some $8 million – is expected to go to the council for approval sometime soon. Richards called for a discussion before that expenditure comes up for a vote.
The city could build up to 330 deed-restricted units at Burlingame. The council previously agreed to start with 110 units in the first phase, including 35 RO lots that would be sold for $150,000 apiece to help fund the project.
Richards, elected to the council in May, wants the city to review its housing priorities, potentially freeing up additional money for Burlingame in the process and eliminating the need for some or all of the RO.
For starters, the city should free up the $1 million in housing funds it invested in the Aspen Mass property, which has since been taken out of consideration for affordable housing, Richards argued during the council’s two-day retreat earlier this week.
The city put up $1 million for the purchase of Aspen Mass, about 30 acres near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, in 1997, with Pitkin County chipping in $65,000. Now, the two governments are eyeing the area as parking for special events, not housing.
“It’s unfair to the housing fund to hold that land for years if there’s no intention to build anything there,” Richards said. The city housing fund could be reimbursed by transportation monies controlled by upvalley governments if a parking lot is the land’s intended purpose, she suggested.
Richards also questioned the need to hold aside money to develop a small project on a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Mill Street and Rio Grande Place.
The site was identified for a multi-use building, including commercial space, affordable housing and free-market condos, in a housing study prepared for the city in 2002.
“Do you really support a four-story building on the edge of Rio Grande Park?” Richards asked her council colleagues. “I don’t, and I don’t think the public will, either.”
If it is built, it could be done privately, she added.
Richards suggested the council also rethink its reluctance to accept cash in lieu of actual housing from private developers who are required to address worker housing as part of their projects.
There are instances when accepting some cash to help build housing for families, rather than insisting on the construction of small units in a hotel project, for example, might make sense, she said.
“I think that by using payment in lieu, we’re able to create a greater project for the greater community good,” Richards said.
The Burlingame housing site is located north of the Maroon Creek Club on the outskirts of town.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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