Trouble at Truscott?
Aspen’s financial advisers have suggested the city not move forward with the proposed Truscott Place redevelopment, citing concerns with “budget overruns” for the affordable housing project.
Two members of the city’s Asset Management Planning Committee, a group that advises the City Council on fiscal matters, appeared before the council Monday to voice the committee’s concerns with the escalating cost of the project.
“We really struggled with this one,” said committee member Karl Zeisler. “We don’t see where the funding to take care of the budget overruns is going to come from.”
Stronger wording came from citizen Neil Ross, who said he has developed three small projects of his own.
“We are on a path of financial suicide,” he said, noting a projected cost of $336 per square foot to build new housing at Truscott. “We’re going to plunder the public coffers.”
His remarks provoked a rebuke from Mayor Rachel Richards, who took exception to Ross’ “inflammatory” comments.
The council last night gave final approval to the Truscott project, which includes 99 additional rental housing units, expanded parking, a new restaurant/ pro shop/ nordic center, improvements to two greens at the Aspen Municipal Golf Course, and six tennis courts. The existing Truscott Place housing is adjacent to the city golf course on the west side of town.
The Asset Management Planning Committee, in a brief written comment to the council, said: “Based on the facts presented and our policy for fiscal responsibility, the AMP Committee does not see where the additional funds will come to finance the budget overruns of the project. Consequently, the AMP Committee cannot recommend the redevelopment of Truscott with these projected budget overruns.”
There are no budget overruns, according to Housing Director Mary Roberts. No firm budget for the project has yet been developed because it remained in the review stage and a state of flux until last night’s approval.
The committee’s concern, explained city assets manager Ed Sadler, is over how the cost of the project has grown since its conception. Rebuilding an intersection, putting in a major sewer line, moving golf course amenities and building pedestrian underpasses have come into the picture as the project was designed.
“When this was originally conceived, when it was a twinkle in everybody’s eye three years ago, those weren’t things they were thinking of,” he said. “They’re concerned with the additions that have been added to the project.”
Richards stressed that it was only the land-use plan before the council for approval last night. The time to sign contracts – and agreeing to the costs – is yet to come.
“The financial concerns bear a close look by all of us,” she agreed. “We clearly can only build what we can afford in any given year, in any given budget. The city will not be plunging the town into financial suicide.”
Construction of the first phases of the redevelopment is scheduled to begin in October. The council will see the first construction contracts next month, Sadler predicted.
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