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Worker digs trump views

Janet Urquhart

It’s not often that Aspen’s worker housing blocks the views of pricier free-market condos, but the city’s Parcel D affordable housing hasn’t thrilled the neighbors who are watching the project take shape outside their windows.”It is so close to us, it’s obscene,” complained Alison Berkley, who purchased her condo at the Lofts at Deer Hill about a year ago, just as construction began at Parcel D. “It’s just literally – you could spit on that building.””I’m definitely surprised how big it is,” agreed her neighbor, gym owner Jean Robert. “In general, I think the city should consider the impact they have whenever they build something like that.”However, Robert is reserving his final judgment until Parcel D is finished and the site is landscaped. Construction is expected to wrap up in October.A construction site never looks great, agreed City Councilwoman Rachel Richards. Still, she also commented on the housing’s impact on Deer Hill during a recent site visit, calling the project “a little out of context” with the neighborhood. Richards was elected to the council about three months before the project won final approval last year.There are eight commercial condos on the ground floor of the Deer Hill building and 10 residential condos above them. Some of the condos have been sold; others are rented. Though it’s not affordable housing, many of the buyers are local working residents who’ve managed to gain a toehold in the free-market.”Here was this wonderful opportunity for someone like me to buy into the free-market,” said Berkley, a columnist for The Aspen Times. “I’m so happy, just to own something, but you know, it’s a little shocking.”The Deer Hill building, off Ventnor Avenue at the Aspen Business Center, is tucked into the hill on the upvalley end of the ABC. The buildings that comprise the 39-unit Parcel D are going up in front of it. While Parcel D is usurping the less-than-stellar foreground views of things like the BMC West lumber yard at the ABC, it’s also blocking views of the hills beyond the airport for a number of the Lofts at Deer Hill condos.Mark Uhlfelder, representing Ventnor 209 Owners LLC, successfully sought a reduction in the value of perhaps the most severely-impacted condo in the Deer Hill building.The county assessor’s office had valued the condo at $406,200. County Commissioner Mick Ireland, acting as the hearing officer for the Board of Equalization, adjusted its value down to $335,000 to take into account the impact of Parcel D on the condo’s views.Robert worried that a degradation in the price of neighboring condos will drag down the value of his unit.The three Parcel D buildings range in height from below 35 feet on the north end of the site to almost 40 feet at the peak of the roof on the south end. A story pole was placed at the north end before construction began to give people an idea of the height of the project, said Steve Bossart, a project manager for the city.”Surprising people is not fun for us, either,” he said.Early iterations of potential site plans for Parcel D shifted the buildings farther south, which would have alleviated the impact for more of the Deer Hill condos, noted one owner in the building, who asked not to be identified.”I think, had the Deer Hill building been employee housing and a private developer was trying to put Parcel D up, there is no way in a million years that they would have been allowed to put that building up,” the condo owner said.Despite their dismay over the bulk of the buildings in front of them, several Deer Hill residents stressed they support the affordable housing program and welcome more locals into their midst.”If I was going to look at the positive of it, I think housing more residents at the ABC is a good thing,” Berkley said.A critical mass of residents at the ABC could result in the kinds of services there that will make it a complete little residential/commercial neighborhood, residents mused.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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