U.S. Forest Service lots require additional city process

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Before building on the five lots the U.S. Forest Service is offering up in a public auction today, the new owners would have to go through a city process that includes paying affordable housing mitigation and other potential fees.

The Forest Service is selling 1 acre of its 3-acre West End property, in order to finance a redevelopment of the aging buildings on the rest of the site, which include a visitor’s center and employee housing. The agency filed a plat with the county, creating five lots on the back portion of the site, near the intersection of Eighth and Smuggler streets.

However, no official subdivision has been recorded or approved by the city, meaning that new owners will have to get growth management allotments and meet other city regulations, costing thousands of dollars.

Interested buyers will have the option to purchase one or any combination of lots, which range in size between 6,600 and 11,600 square feet. Home sizes on the lots could be in the 3,200- to 3,600-square-foot range.

The auction begins at 10 a.m. today at the Doerr-Hoiser Center at the Aspen Meadows, with pre-registration kicking off at 8 a.m.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the agency has fielded numerous inquiries about the property. Whether the inquiries turn into bidders will be answered today, he said.

He said that city officials have contacted the Forest Service about subdividing the land, and taking care of the affordable housing fees. But the federal agency couldn’t go through the “subdivision mitigation process,” Fitzwilliams said.

“In a perfect world we could do that,” he said, “but we are bound by federal regulations and they are bound by theirs.”

He acknowledged that the city approval process and fees will put an additional burden on the properties and increase expenses for the owners.

“It may affect the price,” Fitzwilliams said.

One of the lots has a significant utility line running underneath it that would have to be relocated, and an alley would have to be installed to access the back of at least three of the lots.

Aspen Community Development Director Chris Bendon said he could not quote a number on estimated mitigation fees, since whatever development project is proposed would have to go through its own review.

“I can’t predict the outcome of that review,” he said. But since the lots are undeveloped now, it would be more significant than affordable housing and other fees property owners face when redeveloping existing properties.

Fitzwilliams said there is a minimum price the land sales must clear, otherwise the Forest Service can decline to go through with the deals.

The White River National Forest has contracted with General Services Administration (GSA) to conduct the auction and market the properties.

Bidders — who must have a $50,000 cashier’s check — may also participate in the auction online.

The auction, expected to last about an hour, will begin with each lot being offered individually. After that, bidders will have the chance to make offers for two or more of the parcels, which the auctioneers would accept if it results in more revenue.