Skico affordable housing project in Basalt endorsed by planning commission, opposed by neighbors
Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal for an affordable-housing project in Willits Town Center received an endorsement Tuesday night from the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission but still faces widespread neighborhood opposition.
The planning commission voted 4-0 to recommend approval of the project to the Town Council, which will start review next week. Skico hopes to have direction from the council by the end of May because it needs to exercise an option to buy the property, according to project manager Philip Jeffreys.
Commission members credited Skico with refining the project to respond to concerns expressed by board members and the public in prior meetings.
“The building has been through a total revamp,” Jeffreys said.
The biggest change is that the building design will be four stories rather than three but still falls within the town’s 45-foot height limitation. The change was achieved by “nesting the bedrooms” in some of the units rather than stacking them and creating lofts. That allows Skico to increase the size of six-bedroom units by 24% from 1,212 to 1,500 square feet, Jeffreys said.
“The unit count didn’t change. The footprint didn’t change,” he said.
Skico applied to build 36 units that could house 148 people. Eight of the units would have price controls and be available to renters outside the company, with a preference for child care providers.
Jeffreys’ presentation to the planning commission featured a “Top 6 Most Misunderstood Aspects of Our Project” list through Skico’s eyes. The approvals for Willits Town Center allow as many as 93 residential units for up to 279 residents on the site. Skico’s project will be less dense and much smaller in scale.
“We would be the smallest residential buildings ever built in Willits,” Jeffreys said.
Neighbors expressed a fear that a project would have a dorm-like feeling with seasonal residents hanging out with beers and bongs. Jeffreys countered the building will host a diversity of employees, including many who have been or will be with the company for years. He suggested people shouldn’t be concerned about the type of neighbor who will live in the project because Skico already has 453 employees living in Basalt.
He claimed studies show that affordable-housing projects don’t sink the property values of surrounding free-market homes.
“There doesn’t go the neighborhood,” said a slide in Jeffreys’ presentation.
In a further effort to calm concerns about the project, Skico officials disclosed there will be at least two on-site managers living there and the company will move its leasing office to the building.
Jeffreys ruffled feathers in the audience by saying opposition was coming from people who were settled in their housing and “quite detached from the issue in some ways,” referring to affordable housing.
He said Skico is trying to provide a bona fide option for its employees when so few affordable options exist. He noted that a new, free-market rental complex in Willits rents one-bedroom units for $1,740 per month.
“I think that’s a problem,” he said.
Several speakers cited Jeffreys’ comments as a lack of respect for neighbors who have worked hard to acquire their homes.
“I’m really upset about the fact that the residents who live here and do pay taxes are not the ones being considered,” said Kylie Sanders, a Basalt teacher.
Sanders said adding the right type of building, the right people and the right process has the potential to add vitality to Basalt. She expressed concern that Basalt government was acting too quickly to get an affordable-housing project approved, even if it isn’t a right fit.
Another area resident said the town should hold out for an affordable-housing project that provides opportunities for additional businesses.
Several speakers listed parking as a top concern. Skico proposed building 34 off-street spaces and it wants the ability to use 33 spaces on public streets. Its reasoning is that the previously approved commercial uses would require demand for 45 parking spaces on public streets. Skico officials contended that by providing bus passes and making off-site parking available for overflow demand, it wouldn’t burden Willits Town Center.
Several neighbors said the development already faces a parking issue. It will become worse when additional vacant spaces fill in and a performing arts center is constructed, they said.
The planning commission advised the council to charge $20,212 initially, with an annual cost escalator for the 33 on-street parking spaces, and work with Skico to encourage off-site parking.
During discussion of the proposal, planning commission members acknowledged the project isn’t perfect, but it is the only project they have seen in some time that helps address affordable housing.
Chairman Bill Maron noted he’s been on the board for 21 years.
“In my time I’ve only seen two, maybe three affordable-housing projects that were proposed on their own, with no professional arm twisting,” he said.
The initial presentation on the project will be made to the council Tuesday.
The city of Aspen has taken over the duties of producing the Fourth of July celebration in town and has an entire day planned to celebrate America’s birthday.
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