S’mass to hold special election | AspenTimes.com

S’mass to hold special election

Brent Gardner-Smith

Chads are swinging in Snowmass Village.

The town is holding a special election on Tuesday, Jan. 16, and one Vote-A-Matic machine is now up and running in the clerk’s office for absentee voters.

Unlike the presidential election in Florida, the results of the current Snowmass Village election should be fairly easy to tabulate. It is a yes or no question as to whether or not the town can spend $6.2 million on a new affordable housing project on Faraway Road known as Parcel N. The project includes 16 units of affordable housing, with employees of Snowmass Village having top priority.

It’s not unusual for the town to build affordable housing. What is unusual is that the town needs to hold a special election to do so.

But since Snowmass Village voters approved an initiative on the November ballot, the town must now seek voter approval for projects that cost more than $3.86 million, or 40 percent of the town’s annual revenues.

The necessity to hold a special election for an affordable housing project caught some in Snowmass Village by surprise.

Jim Haywood, the man behind the initiative requiring the town to check with voters before proceeding with big projects, said that a potential $16 million transit center at the mall was the real motivation for the ballot question.

“It certainly wasn’t targeted at affordable housing projects,” said Haywood. “Although, it turns out the cost of the housing project is above the amount we set.”

Snowmass Village may now be the only municipality in the state whose citizens have placed direct control over how much it can spend on a given project without an election.

“Snowmass is unique in that regard,” said Sam Mamet, the associate director of the Colorado Municipal League, an association of 264 of the 269 cities and towns in the state. “I can’t think of any other municipality that has that sort of restrictions on its town council.”

It may have also introduced a new level of citizen involvement in the town. For while Haywood’s ballot question was aimed at ensuring that the transit center got voter approval, he’s also now questioning the wisdom of the Parcel N project.

The project would be located on a 3.45-acre lot just below the Ridge condos at the bottom of Faraway Road. The town bought the property in 1999 for $350,000 to use for affordable housing. Construction costs are estimated to be $5.9 million, and financing will add another $300,000 to the project.

In Haywood’s mind, the project may not be the best use of the town’s money because not only was the site expensive, it’s an expensive site to build on, and there is not room for many units.

“It is excessively expensive for what it accomplishes and there are better choices for the town’s money, specifically at other locations,” said Haywood. He also said that he was disappointed the Parcel N ballot question did include a price for the project.

An informational sheet sent out to town residents explains that the project will consist of 16 units in two buildings built into the hillside. The two- and three-bedroom units are expected to sell in the $190,000 to $250,000 price range. The sheet spells out the construction and financing costs of the project.

Snowmass Village voters can express their opinion of the project on Jan. 16 at the sole polling place for the special election – the Snowmass Chapel and Community Center.

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