Unit count and mix at lumberyard affordable housing project a fine line for Aspen City Council
Livability versus density on the minds of designers and elected officials at city’s largest affordable housing project to date
The majority of Aspen City Council agreed during a work session on Monday to eliminate roughly 30 units from its Lumberyard housing project in favor of livability for the hundreds of people who will live in the rental and ownership buildings next to the Airport Business Center.
Council spent three-and-a-half hours going over details of the affordable housing project, which will be the largest and most expensive one the city has ever done.
While council had previously given direction on 310 units in three large, four-story buildings, the majority voiced support for going down to 280.
That will allow for fewer parking spaces, buildings set back a bit and more room to breathe between structures.
Cushing Terrell, a Denver-based architectural design firm hired by the city, had proposed 266 units as the alternative “elbow room” to quell council concerns on density and livability, which included shaving off 14 units on the fourth floor of buildings one and three, which were susceptible to noise from the airport and Highway 82.
But council members, looking at 75% of schematic design plans for the project, said on Monday they wanted to keep those units intact.
“I really appreciate what you guys have brought back; when it was a 50-unit difference in the schemes, I was taken aback by that,” said Mayor Torre. “I would not like to lose that many. … I can’t help but sit here and really lament the loss of so many units.”
The design team anticipated that sentiment and will work with council’s feedback and provide a middle-ground alternative at its next work session on the project, which is scheduled for May 16.
Council member Skippy Mesirow said he doesn’t support eliminating any units and was in favor of a much denser project when the design process began two years ago.
“This project is so much less in terms of human count than it could’ve been and there may be good reason for that,” he said. “But I’m not signing off on let’s just cut the other 30 units. … I hope I am not guillotining 60 humans out of our community, because if you are not here, barring some other work, which I hope will be successful, but we don’t have a guarantee to, like it’s pretty much SOL (s–t out of luck), see you in some other state, so I want to be mindful of that.”
Torre took umbrage with the way Mesirow framed that.
“I agree with what you are saying, Skippy, I just don’t want the characterization that we are cutting people out, saying ‘sayonara down the road you go,’” he said.
Council members John Doyle and Ward Hauenstein generally supported moving toward a 266-unit project; council member Rachel Richards was absent.
Council also was amenable to 50% of the project’s roughly 400 parking spaces being underground, with the rest above ground, along with a transportation program that disincentivizes cars and incentivizes alternative transit.
A detailed transportation impact analysis of the project will be published, along with the 100% schematic design, at council’s May 16 work session.
Preliminary findings by consultant Fehr & Peers show that at full build-out, the Aspen Lumberyard project will add approximately 60 vehicle trips per day from the ABC to downtown Aspen, resulting in travel times on Highway 82 increasing by about one minute during rush hour, according to a staff memo.
Through new or improved transit services, the city can further reduce the number of vehicle trips generated by the Aspen Lumberyard project, according to the preliminary traffic analysis.
At full build-out, the project will eliminate approximately 93 automobile commuter trips from downvalley per day, each averaging 32 miles round-trip. This equates to eliminating 750,000 vehicle miles per year on Highway 82, or an equivalent CO2 emissions reduction of 600,000 to 700,000 pounds each year, according to preliminary results.
The project is estimated to cost $330 million on a 10.5-acre site at the ABC, which is land currently occupied by Builders FirstSource and Aspen Mini Storage and owned by the city, which paid $29.25 million over the years for the purpose of building affordable housing.
Construction on the project would begin in 2024 and could be phased for as long as 10 years.
From 2019 to 2022, the design process has cost about $1.5 million. Staff estimates that this is between 15% and 20% of what may turn out to be the total design costs for the project and is within expectation for one of this scale.