Zolines reject land trust proposal for Burlingame | AspenTimes.com

Zolines reject land trust proposal for Burlingame

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A proposal to reconfigure the Burlingame housing project and create a wildlife preserve on adjacent lands has been rejected by the Zoline family.

Nonetheless, the coalition of conservationists that pitched the plan to rework Burlingame is not ready to shelve its ideas just yet. The Aspen Valley Land Trust wants to sit down with the Zolines before it accepts “no” as the family’s final answer.

Two representatives of the family have rejected AVLT’s proposal in a sharply worded letter. In it, they chide the land trust for putting forth a last-minute plan that they feel does little to improve upon an existing development agreement between the Zolines and the city of Aspen.

The Zolines and the city are partners in an agreement that spells out the development of free-market homes on the Zolines’ Bar/X Ranch and the city’s ability to construct up to 330 units of affordable housing on adjacent acreage. When the deal was renegotiated late last year, it upped the affordable housing component from 225 units to the present 330, but required the city to negotiate with the AVLT for 30 adjacent acres owned by the trust.

AVLT subsequently put forward a proposal to relocate the housing to a portion of the Zolines’ ranch in order to preserve a wildlife corridor encompassing Deer Hill.

Conservationists advocating the new layout feel it is more palatable from an environmental standpoint and still accomplishes the city’s housing goals. City Council members have deferred to the Zolines, who have rejected the AVLT plan for several reasons.

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John Lifton and Pam Zoline, spokespersons for the family, outlined their objections in a letter to the council in April. The couple are vacationing out of the country until later this month, but were filled in on the AVLT proposal through their attorney, Herb Klein.

The city has asked to meet with AVLT representatives on Monday to discuss where the parties go from here. City Attorney John Worcester said he and Mayor Helen Klanderud plan to meet with land trust representatives.

“We’re talking with AVLT – we’re back to square one with them,” Worcester said.

But Michael McVoy, president of the AVLT board of directors, said the trust will continue to pursue its ideas with the city and the Zolines.

The AVLT board is aware of the Zolines’ reaction to their proposals, but is preparing more information on what conservationists feel are advantages of the AVLT plan.

“We are certainly hoping to sit down and have a conversation across the table with the Zolines,” McVoy said. “We’re certainly not pulling our ideas off the table. As far as we’re concerned, our ideas are permanently on the table.”

The fate of the back bowl of Deer Hill – the prominent point between the Maroon Creek Club and Airport Business Center west of Aspen – has drawn AVLT into the Burlingame debate.

The city’s original deal with the Zolines allowed Aspen to build up to 225 affordable units on a 25-acre parcel that included about five acres of the city’s Burlingame Ranch and 20 acres of the Zolines’ land.

Under the new deal, the city has the option of expanding into the back bowl of Deer Hill on its property for 80 of the 330 units. That area had been protected by a conservation easement in the original agreement and would be again if the city can reach a deal to acquire the AVLT parcel, which contains about nine buildable acres.

“We are very strongly of the position that we don’t want to see housing in the bowl,” McVoy said.

When city voters approved the original Burlingame agreement, the bowl was to be preserved. “We think that’s a position in the election that ought to be honored,” he said.

McVoy said the land trust would like the Zolines and the city to look at Burlingame Ranch, the Bar/X Ranch and the AVLT land as if it were one parcel and make the best possible decisions regarding its overall development.

If the AVLT’s ideas are considered and rejected, then the land trust will negotiate other options with the city for use of the AVLT land, he said.

The AVLT proposal contains several components, including relocation of the planned affordable housing to the south of its currently proposed site. The new locale pulls the housing away from the back bowl and the AVLT parcel and onto irrigated fields that are part of the Zoline ranching operation.

That would preclude the Zolines’ ability to keep the ranching concern going – an oft-stated family goal, Klein noted.

“In proposing so casually that we should abandon ranching in order to accommodate their proposal, AVLT betrays a scorn for ranching and agriculture that they should be ashamed of,” the Zolines said in the letter.

The Zolines also contend the lands left open in the existing joint agreement better preserve the actual wildlife migration corridor than does the AVLT proposal.

“We have maintained connectivity of open space for wildlife movement where we observe the wildlife actually move, not where AVLT thinks they should theoretically move,” the letter states.

The Zolines conclude the existing plan is a better one for both affordable housing and conservation purposes.

“In conclusion . we must bluntly state that although AVLT may wish that this were a 1980s-style disagreement between morally superior environmentalists and greedy developers, that just ain’t the case,” the letter said.

The combined Burlingame, Bar/X and AVLT lands are located between Highway 82 and Maroon Creek, to the north and east of the Maroon Creek Club.