Willits developer proposes more affordable housing than Basalt’s code requires
Final Willits project would include 44 rent-capped units
A developer is actually proposing to go above and beyond Basalt’s requirements for affordable housing in a project.
Michael Lipkin wants to build 111 free-market condominiums, which would be sold, and 44 deed-restricted, rent-capped units in his last remaining, undeveloped section of the Willits residential neighborhood.
The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday night to advise the Town Council to grant sketch plan approval for the plan.
“I applaud how there is more affordable housing in this than was required,” said commission member Cindy Hirschfeld.
The town code gives developers options on providing affordable housing. Option one is to provide 15% of the project’s unit and 15% of the residential square footage as affordable housing along with a 1.5% real estate transfer assessment on sales of units to raise revenue for affordable housing. That would have required 21 affordable units totaling 30,540 square feet.
Option two requires 20% of the units and 25% of the square footage to be affordable with no RETA. That would mean 31 units and 50,900 square feet of affordable housing.
Lipkin and his Possumco LLC proposed a hybrid solution. The 44 units will be deed restricted with rent caps. They total 40,820 square feet.
Since Lipkin was above in deed-restricted units but below in square footage, he proposed a 0.75% RETA to raise additional funds for Basalt affordable housing program.
The 155 total residences are proposed on the last remaining 12.5 acres in the Willits residential neighborhood, which was approved by Basalt in 1999. Willits Town Center, the mix of commercial and residential uses that is anchored by Whole Foods, was approved in 2001. It also is nearly built-out.
The 155 residences will be divided among seven free market buildings and two affordable housing buildings. They will be located between the Park Modern townhomes along Willits Lane and Willis Lake to the east.
Lipkin told the planning commission he wants to build out the final piece at a pace that the economy will support. If the economy tanks, he wants the flexibility to delay construction.
“We’d like to build as fast as we can, gracefully,” he said.
For a valley reeling from lack of affordable housing, the addition of 44 units cannot come fast enough.
Under Lipkin’s proposal, he would be required to get the first building permit within three years of final development approval. The final building plat will be filed within 10 years of final development approval.
In addition, construction would be completed on one affordable housing building with 22 units before the third free-market building could be occupied.
Planning commission members expressed a desire to speed construction of the affordable housing but left the issue to the council.
Lipkin responded that he hopes the economy remains robust and enough demand exists to proceed with construction of the entire project as quickly as possible.
“I’m 71. There’s probably more issue with my age then the vesting,” he quipped.
The approval is essentially cut and dried because Lipkin’s plan complies with the town’s land-use master plan. The town government deemed the site as appropriate for medium density residential development.
“The Master Plan contains a density range of up to 155 dwelling units for the subject property,” said a memo to the planning commission from the planning staff.
The property was identified as appropriate for a density of 85 units in the 1999 master plan. That was increased to 155 units in an update in 2007. The higher range was carried over in the 2020 Master Plan update. It’s another example of how land use battles are won or lost during the long, often dull and poorly attended master plan hearings rather than during reviews for individual projects.
In addition to the affordable housing, Lipkin’s project provides public benefits through regrading an existing lake to create a small beach area near the existing Willits rugby and soccer field, and completion of a trail around the lake.
Willits Lake is “deep and drops off rapidly from the bank in its current configuration,” said a staff memo. “Currently there is no recreation permitted on the lake due to its conditions.”
A portion of the lake would be off-limits to recreational use. “As the southern portion of the lake is a more natural area with some wetlands, there would have to be a balance between the contemplated recreational area of the lake and the more natural area of the wetland area on the southern end of the lake that would need to remain off limits to people recreating in the lake,” the planning staff memo said.
The project will advance to the Town Council on a date to be determined. The project must go through a total of three rounds of review by both the P&Z and council.
The Aspen Ambulance District seeks a property-tax increase to keep up its level of service, and the Pitkin County commissioners showed initial willingness this week to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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