Slow roll of Lumberyard housing presentation will carry over another week as council considers approval

The Lumberyard Affordable Housing Project faced its biggest hurdle yet, seeking entitlements at the Tuesday Aspen City Council meeting. The length of the presentation and public comment interest forced Mayor Torre to continue the discussion to a later date.
City of Aspen/Courtesy image

With about half of the presentation before the Aspen City Council completed, city staff impressed the urgency of approved entitlements for the Lumberyard Affordable Housing Project and the variety of payment models on council members. 

Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing development senior project manager, likened the entitlement process to “development rights.” It signals to potential developers that the city has set parameters and community priorities for the project. The council has expressed interest in a public-private partnership for the Lumberyard.

“One of the major benefits of completing the entitlement process is that an approval of the planned development will help guarantee that this community of Aspen ultimately receives the type of project that they have told us — and you — over and over again that they want to see,” said Nicole Olmstead, project manager with the firm working with staff on the project, Cushing Terrell.

Cushing Terrell staff also stressed that with entitlements, a future request for proposals to construct the Lumberyard would draw a wider pool of specialists in affordable housing who could navigate financing, project management, design construction, and property management

And with secured entitlements, the project would have a much greater chance of success in attracting a wide pool of private developers and winning state and federal grants. 

This graph shows the proposed timeline for the Lumberyard project. Currently in Phase 0.
City of Aspen/Courtesy image

Everson mentioned that an application for a $10 million grant to go toward the project was thrown out due to the lack of entitlements. 

To fund the project, which has been projected to cost around $400 million, he presented a variety of models that include the city accruing debt and completing the project faster — or not accruing debt and completing the project slower, but completing the project. From his examples, the difference could be about four years and the city could take on about $70 million in debt. 

“We can’t build more housing with debt, but we can accelerate the pace of (construction) and get it occupied,” he said. He also suggested that a payment plan could — and should — be directed to Aspen voters. 

The city’s affordable housing-fund revenue has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, and with the new short-term rental excise tax, Everson expressed confidence that funding the project through that tax revenue and grant funding is possible.

By about 9 p.m., after more than two hours of presenting, Mayor Torre directed him to continue the rest of the presentation to a later date. 

There was a slow attrition of apparent public commenters as the presentation soldiered on into the evening.

Since 2019, staff and then also Cushing Terrell engaged the community in years of public outreach to understand community vision for the affordable housing project. The Lumberyard project can be traced back to 2005, when the city bought the land with the intent to one day develop the land as an affordable housing project. 

After years of tweaking the plans, the Lumberyard project would consist of 277 deed-restricted affordable housing units across three buildings on an 11-acre parcel of land in the Aspen Airport Business Center. Planning also calls for its own RFTA stop with 30-minute service and 435 parking spaces split 50/50 above and below ground. 

The proposed entitlement would offer some flexibility to a potential developer on things like total floor square footage but not number of units. 

The project comes in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, as projections put the city of Aspen and the region at thousands of affordable units short of demand. 

The rest of the Lumberyard presentation, public comment, and vote on the ordinance will take place on Tuesday, June 13, at 3 p.m., earlier than the City Council usually starts meetings.

“The sooner we start, the sooner we end,” Torre said.


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