Zolines enter fray over Burlingame | AspenTimes.com

Zolines enter fray over Burlingame

Janet Urquhart
Pam Zoline and her husband, John Lifton, have kept quiet about the familys stake in the controversial Burlingame affordable housing project, but they say they believe the deal is the best for the city and their family. Aspen Times photo/Jim Noelker.

In all the noise over Aspen’s controversial Burlingame Ranch housing development, a key player with plenty of stake in the outcome has been strangely, or perhaps strategically, silent.The fate of the worker housing project now lies in a May 3 vote on the city’s annexation of the Bar/X Ranch. The Zoline family, owners of the ranch, has kept a low profile – until now. Telluride residents and family spokespersons Pam Zoline and her husband, John Lifton, say they’re prepared to speak up – do some campaigning, even – in what is likely to be a lively debate over the worker housing project that has so divided the community.They don’t deny the deal the family worked out with the city – endorsed by voters in August 2000 – addresses their desires, and needs, for the ranch, but they firmly believe it’s a good deal for the community, as well.”We feel as though the plan we’ve ended up with after this very long process … is kind of a triumph,” said Pam, perched on a stuffed sofa in the parlor of the old-style ranch home where her family began gathering each summer after her parents bought the Bar/X 50 years ago.The Zolines, including Pam’s brother and sister, were already talking about estate planning when the city purchased the neighboring Burlingame Ranch from the Paepcke estate in November 1996 for $2.6 million. The parcel included about 250 acres, including land on both sides of Highway 82. The bulk of it surrounded Deer Hill on the north side of the highway.At that time, the city was contemplating housing on various pieces of the property, some of which has already materialized with the Burlingame/MAA seasonal housing along the highway and the recently constructed Annie Mitchell Homestead next to the Airport Business Center. The flat spot on the back of Deer Hill was also considered a prime spot for housing; the rest of the land would be preserved as open space.

Housing officials thought perhaps 70 units could be squeezed into the back bowl of Deer Hill, but some citizens decried use of the sensitive spot for homes, citing its importance to wildlife.The Zolines, as Lifton recalls, suggested a joint planning effort to see if the city and the Bar/X owners could come up with a better solution for development on both properties jointly than either entity might produce on its own.The ultimate result was a plan for 12 free-market homes on the periphery of the Bar/X with conservation of about half of the ranch so that its small cattle operation could continue. The 47 units of worker housing that the city decided would be required for the Bar/X homes would be part of a larger worker housing project to be developed by the city. In exchange, the Zolines agreed to give the city 21.5 acres of flat land on their ranch. The parcel provides the space for a larger project than the city envisioned solely on its property and it keeps homes out of the back bowl.”Our sense is, it’s a very good deal for the city,” Lifton said. “And that the alternatives would be far worse,” Zoline chimed in.The death of Pam’s father, Joseph, last year, has triggered the need to put the family’s estate plan to action. Estate taxes will eat about half of the Bar/X Ranch’s worth, according to Lifton. The taxes aren’t assessed on its value as a cattle ranch, but on its highest and best use – as an enclave of pricey homes on the outskirts of Aspen.

“Half the potential value for development has to be paid in taxes. It’s a very big check,” Lifton said.If voters turn down the annexation in May, the city and the Zolines will each go their own way, Lifton predicted. However, the preannexation agreement worked out between the city and the Zolines calls for the city to reimburse the Zolines for their legal and planning expenses to date. That sum is “not insubstantial,” according to the family’s attorney, Herb Klein.Whether the city wants to pursue housing on its land alone will be up to the City Council and, perhaps, the voters.The Zolines will pursue a development plan under Pitkin County’s land-use code, though Lifton said there is no formal “back-up plan” in the works. Instead, the family is optimistic the annexation will prevail in May, Pam said.Much of the ranch is zoned for a house on every two acres, though the ultimate density the county would approve – and the worker housing or cash in lieu of housing that it would require – would have to be worked out. The piece of the Bar/X slated for the city’s housing project alone could accommodate 10 free-market homes, Lifton noted. It’s unlikely any of the ranch would be conserved for agricultural use.

“We don’t see an alternative that could happen that people would see as a better alternative,” he said.”Some people sort of have this fantasy that if this doesn’t happen, nothing changes – it just stays the way it is,” Pam added. That’s not the case, she said.”People will probably hate what happens,” Lifton said.So, the Zolines will step gingerly into the fray, and into the line of fire.”On this round, we are intending to get our message out,” Lifton said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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