Stillwater may shrink |

Stillwater may shrink

Allyn Harvey

What you see might not be what you get at the Stillwater affordable housing development.

The Pitkin County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to approve a 17-unit mix of three- and one-bedroom townhomes on the east side of Aspen. The vote ends the process of conceptual approvals that began with the Housing Board last fall.

But before a single shovel of dirt is moved, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority must come back for approval one more time with a detailed submission.

Between now and then, Housing Authority project manager Lee Novak will gather information on a proposal to reduce the project by as many as 11 units. That would involve selling the land to a private developer, who would then build one or two free-market homes and six to eight condos or townhomes for the affordable housing program.

Novak will also present a site plan for 15 units, reducing the size of one of the buildings in the seven-unit complex from a four-plex to a duplex. And that’s not all. He has also been asked to reduce the amount of outside lighting, narrow the width of the neighborhood street from 32 feet and locate at least some of the parking in garages, driveways and parking lots.

“It’s not really done until we sell the units, and even then it’s not really done,” said Novak as he left the meeting.

The Stillwater project is located on a 4.5-acre lot across Highway 82 from the Mountain Valley neighborhood, about a mile east of downtown Aspen. The land was donated to the county in 1994 by the late Fritz and Fabi Benedict. In the deed, the Benedicts required the lot either to be sold, with the proceeds going towards the affordable housing program, or used as a site for affordable housing units.

The project is opposed by neighbors who own property in and around the Stillwater subdivision, which the Benedicts created in the early 1990s. Among the opposing neighbors are Fritz and Fabi’s daughter, Jessica Benedict-Gordon, and son-in-law John Gordon.

The Gordons and others maintain that Fabi Benedict never meant for the property to be used for such a large project. Rather, they said, Fabi would have preferred that the land be sold and the proceeds used to build housing elsewhere.

“The question of whether we want affordable housing or open space isn’t the issue here,” said Stewart Resnick, a neighboring homeowner. “The issue is whether the county is overbuilding on a lot that was donated.”

“Fritz and Fabi didn’t always agree on things, and Fritz’s opinion about employee housing was very different than Fabi’s,” said Marsha Goshorn, a project supporter.

The project also gained support from longtime resident and former County Commissioner Helen Klanderud, who lives near the Stillwater subdivision on Riverside Drive. “I’m here to tell you that I support this project, one hundred percent,” she said.

She pointed out that at one time, Fritz Benedict thought about 80 to 100 apartment units around the ponds of the old gravel pit, also located across the highway from Mountain Valley. That property is now owned by Stewart and Linda Resnick, who live there part-time in a 17,800-square-foot home. The Resnicks oppose the 22,000-square-foot housing development.

Developer Tim Semrau offered a solution that may end up appeasing both the neighbors and the county. Semrau suggested the county sell the land to a private developer, who would then build one or two free-market homes and six or seven homes for the affordable housing program.

That plan, he pointed out, would appease the neighbors, provide affordable housing and put cash in the Housing Authority’s coffers. “The problem with this site is it’s a gift, and I think the Benedict children have some say about how it should be developed,” he said.

When Commissioner Dorothea Farris pointed out that building more free-market housing would simply create more relatively low-paying service jobs that would be filled by people who need affordable housing, Semrau suggested the free-market homes be limited to 3,000 square feet.

The idea received a lukewarm reception from the other commissioners as well, except Patti Clapper. Clapper, who lives in affordable housing at the Smuggler trailer court, said she’d be willing to give serious consideration to a smaller project.

“I am personally not comfortable going down to six or eight units,” said Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper. “I don’t think that’s enough for us.”

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