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Up for sale: Aspen Mass

Aspen Times writer

By Janet Urquhart

Aspen Times Staff Writer

Roughly 30 acres of publicly owned land near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road is going on the market.

Aspen and Pitkin County have been sitting on the parcel, commonly known as Aspen Mass, since the two governments teamed up to purchase it with housing money in 1997.

It has since been crossed off the list of potential sites for worker housing, and Thursday, no one could think of a likely transit use for the parcel either.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprising representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and the county, voted against purchasing the parcel with transit-tax dollars controlled jointly by the group. County commissioners favored the purchase, but were outvoted by Aspen and Snowmass council members.

Aspen is anxious to get its housing money out of Aspen Mass for use in other projects. It put up $1 million of the $1.65 million purchase price, with Pitkin County supplying the rest from its own housing money.

At one point, elected officials hoped to swap the property with the U.S. Forest Service for its property in the West End.

The city also spent $75,000 on a competition to produce a winning design for 120 units of housing at the site, but the project never went forward. It’s currently zoned for three single-family homes.

Commissioner Mick Ireland urged the EOTC to buy out Aspen’s share in the parcel and hold onto the property, but City Councilwoman Rachel Richards chastised him for wanting to keep county housing money tied up in the land.

The county could be using that money to lower the price of its planned Stillwater Ranch units or to buy into the city’s Burlingame housing project, Richards said.

“They’re holding a piece of property that they have no intention of building housing on – that’s blatantly wrong,” she said.

“I object, plain and simple as a citizen, to see that money used for a non-housing purpose.”

Ireland called Richards’ argument “cramped thinking” and predicted local governments would regret letting the property go, urging the EOTC to “think ahead a little bit.”

Aspen Mass had recently been mentioned as a possible site for a new Aspen Valley Hospital before the hospital’s financial crisis put those discussions on a back burner.

Doug Mercatoris, a Snowmass town councilman, also expressed reluctance to dispose of public land, given real estate prices in the upper valley, but could think of no appropriate reason to spend transit money on the property.

The EOTC is pursuing plans for a large parking lot for special events in the vicinity, where parking already exists, but Aspen Mass is not contiguous to the parking lot.

“It’s not an appropriate use of this money, no matter how you look at it,” said Aspen Councilman Tim Semrau.

There was no discussion about the asking price the city and county will set for the parcel.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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