The home of the late Su Lum, a historic miner’s cabin located at 1020 E. Cooper Ave, is the site of a proposed restoration and development that would net 12 beds for Aspen’s affordable housing program. Lum was a part of the leadership team at The Aspen Times for 40 years, as well as a columnist for the newspaper before she passed away in 2017.
Project developer Jim DeFrancia said that using the site for workforce housing is a way to honor the historic home as well as the legacy of its longtime resident.
“There is an emotional attachment to historic preservation as well,” he said. “The fact that she lived there adds to its historic character, and it still is a house from the 19th century, so in my opinion, that makes it worth saving.”
DeFrancia, along with fellow longtime development executive Jean Coulter and a local project team, will be voluntarily adding the completed development to the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority stock and taking advantage of the affordable housing certificate program the city has set up to encourage private development of affordable housing.
“It’s all being done on the private sector side, and I think there needs to be more examples of that so we don't just put this burden on the government,” DeFrancia said.
The home and an additional building will consist of five units, three two-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom apartments which will all be rental units with prices fixed by APCHA. East Cooper Avenue is a residential multifamily zone district, just east of City Market, leading up Independence Pass. The certificates can be sold to other free-market developers who require housing mitigation as part of their projects in the future.
DeFrancia pointed to an APCHA-commissioned housing study showing the growing need for workforce housing in the Roaring Fork Valley. He said that while the incentives are not as great when building for lower incomes, developers can still come out ahead.
“If you want to call it out, it’s a question of if you just want to be greedy or not,” he said.
“If you can make a profit and at the same time satisfy a public need and make a contribution to community and society, in my opinion, that's what good development is all about.”
He said it was important to create affordable housing for people who work in Aspen within the town itself.
“I've long been an advocate of our critical need in Aspen for affordable housing for the people who make our community function and work,” he said. “We really have a broad collective role between the public and the private sector to address affordable housing, and we can’t keep doing it downvalley because that's not really solving the problem.”
The Historic Preservation Commission is scheduled to review the conceptual plans on Jan. 13. For buildings classified as historic properties, HPC is the only review panel, though city council is able to comment on the project if they see fit. Best-case-scenario estimates show breaking ground on the project in the spring of 2022.
DeFrancia was formerly a member of HPC and president of the Aspen Historical Society. He said when the property went up for sale, it was the right combination for meeting his desire to create housing for locals.
“This is like two homers in a row. We get to do something for historic preservation, and we get to do something for affordable housing,” he said.