Risky business in Basalt housing talks? | AspenTimes.com
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Risky business in Basalt housing talks?

BASALT – The Willits subdivision developers and Basalt Town Council are working together to improve the design of 84 townhouses, but they are also facing a potential showdown over affordable housing.

The developers need an extension of their approvals for units they couldn’t get built before the economy soured. But they don’t want to expose themselves to new, tougher rules on affordable housing that have been created since their project was initially approved.

“Quite frankly, we can’t let that happen,” Jody Edwards, the developers’ attorney, told the council Tuesday night.

As it stands, the developers aren’t required to build any affordable housing as part of the 125,000-square-foot, 84-unit townhouse project. But new rules would require 35 percent of the square footage to be deed-restricted, price-capped affordable housing, according to the Basalt planning staff.

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Edwards said the project isn’t set up financially to absorb a subsidy for affordable housing by jacking up the price of free-market units. As designed, the free-market units cannot be priced high enough to sell other units below construction cost.

So developers Michael Lipkin, Clay Crossland and Paul Adams, the partners in Nadineco LLC, dangled a carrot to the council to earn the extension. “We believe we have a better plan,” Edwards said.

Their proposal is to eliminate most surface parking for the townhouses and build underground garages beneath the units. They are required to build 145 parking spaces. All but 35 would be underground.

In addition, they would alter the architecture of the townhouses so they would be different from the nearby Lakeside condominiums and Willits townhouses. “The way [design guidelines] are written, they almost require a sameness,” Edwards said.

The developers completed about 200 condos and townhouses in the neighborhood in earlier phases. They flank the vacant lots where the last 84 townhouses are proposed.

The developers want the approvals for the final 84 townhouses extended by one year to provide time to negotiate new designs with the council. The result would be “an acre less of asphalt, more green space and a more livable neighborhood,” Edwards said.

Even if the one-year extension is granted, the developers will require additional years of extended approvals to build the units in phases, he said.

The risk in the negotiations, for the developers, is that the council will require affordable housing. Councilman Chris Seldin wanted a promise that the developers would add affordable housing before granting the one-year extension. However, his motion died for lack of a second.

The other six council members granted conceptual approval to the one-year extension. In the worst-case scenario, the negotiations will fail and the developers will build the 84 townhouses as approved in one year, said Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt. In the best-case scenario, talks will yield an agreement for a more desirable project.

“I don’t think there are great benefits in the plan as it stands now,” Whitsitt said.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer, a Willits resident, agreed that negotiations will be worthwhile. “Giving 12 months, the neighbors have nothing to lose and something to gain,” she said.

The council voted 6-1 to grant the extension of approvals for one year and start negotiations about the design of the townhouses. A second vote of approval is needed on March 9.

The Willits residential neighborhood is owned separately from Willits Town Center, which features the brick commercial and residential buildings. Lipkin is a common partner in both projects.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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